Laws on Child Access

Child Access Laws exist to protect the rights of the non-custodial parent after separation or divorce. Access is the privilege of the non-custodial parent to visit and interact with a child and is determined by an Access Assessment 1. The assessment uses a set of guidelines to evaluate what sort of visitation arrangement is in the best interest of the child and is performed by an assessor assigned by the court 1.

What is Child Access

Child access is the ability of a parent to engage and interact with their child after divorce or separation has given custody to the former partner 1. Generally, the parent given or allotted custody is the one who bore the most responsibilities in regards to the child prior to separation, if the couple had once lived together. Child access differs from custody in that it moderates visitations and involvement, based on the best interest of the child. No law promises the right of a parent to access their child if guardianship is not awarded, but it is almost universally accepted that, in most cases, it is in the best interest of the child to have a relationship with both parents.

How is Child Access Determined

When determining degrees of access between a parent and child, the court will consider multiple factors. Most often, the parents both consent to a set schedule of visitations within a court of law, but occasionally they will opt to work out visitations as needed, informally. In instances of battling parents who cannot come to an agreement as to child custody and access or of a child protection case, the ruling judge will administer a test to determine what is truly in the best interest of the child 1. This is called the Child Custody and Access Assessment 1. The test helps a judge decide by using the following factors: the love, affection, and emotional ties between the child and those seeking custody, the views and preferences of the child, the length of time the child has lived in a stable home environment, the willingness and ability of those seeking custody to provide guidance, education, and necessities for the child and to meet special needs, plans for proposed care and upbringing, permanence and stability in the home unit where the child will live, and the relationship between blood/adoption between those seeking custody and the child.

What to Expect During an Access Assessment

The parents applying for custody and access may be able to select an independent assessor or may be assigned one should the court refer the case to the Office of the Children's Lawyer (Canada). If the parents are able to choose their own assessor, they are able to review the professional history of multiple assessors to select one whose background is most relevant to issues particular to their case. Once an assessor has been assigned, he will gather and consider court records pertaining to current action, medical histories, criminal reference checks and other records that indicate healthy domestic function. Interviews will also take place, including everyone whose presence will routinely have bearing on the child's life. This includes both parents, new partners and, depending on extended family involvement, may include school administrators, employers or colleagues. After completing research, the assessor will compile a report that details their findings and suggests or outlines parenting arrangements that will most benefit the child. This information is shared during a disclosure meeting with the parents and their possible lawyers, which signifies the end of the assessment.