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What are Parenting Orders in BC? How to get them, Types, Differences

What are Parenting Orders in BC? How to get them, Types, Differences

Parenting Orders in BC are interim or final orders with respect to parenting a child or children after spouses separate. They are sometimes necessary when parents cannot agree on an appropriate parenting arrangement for their children. These Orders are generally made by judges or Masters. They can also go by consent.

How do I Get a Parenting Schedule for my Child?

To a get parenting schedule for your child after separation, most people should follow the below steps:

  1. First communicate with the other parent and see if you can agree on a parenting schedule;
  2. If you are unable to agree on a parenting schedule between yourselves, see if you can use a trusted friend, counsellor or a neutral wise person to help;
  3. If you are still unable to reach an agreement on parenting, then see if hiring a Mediator, Family Justice Counsellor or a parenting coordinator would be suitable;
  4. If all else fails despite all efforts to reach an agreement, retain a family lawyer and commence a Parenting Time Action in either the Provincial or the Supreme Court of BC;

After a couple with children separate, parenting arrangements are first on the list of issues to be addressed.  When will the children have parenting time with each parent?  What will the schedule look like?  Who will be responsible for picking up and dropping of from daycare, school, or extracurricular activities?

Parenting time is the term used by the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act, for the time the children spend with each parent.  Typically, the parents will use a somewhat regular schedule for parenting time, as it provides the children with routine and structure and allows them to plan their own time accordingly.

Sometimes, the parties can agree on a parenting schedule in an amicable manner between themselves.  When the parties cannot agree, they can either seek the services of a parenting time lawyer, or mediator, including a Family Justice Counsellor, or a combination of these to resolve the issue.  If they cannot reach resolution outside of court, the only option is to make a court application for orders about parenting time.

What is Formal vs. Informal Parenting Time in BC?

Informal Parenting time arises when separated parents fall into a pattern of parenting time without necessarily agreeing to a given schedule. Other times the schedule will be based on a verbal agreement between the parents. Informal parenting time can be enforced through the courts if one parent suddenly stops following the arrangement without good reason.

Formal parenting time schedules occur often when parties enter into a written agreement, often with the assistance of a lawyer or mediator. They also include Court Order with respect to parenting. Formal parenting time schedules happen for a variety of reasons, most common of which is the parties having disputes over parenting time and having to resolve them formally and not always amongst themselves.

Family lawyers frequently advise clients on a parenting schedule when the parties are not able to agree on their own.  Sometimes the lawyer can assist their client in reaching an out of court agreement with the other party.  Other times, a court application is necessary.

What is the Difference Between Interim and Final Parenting Orders in BC? 

An interim parenting time order happens after a parent makes a temporary application to the court for interim parenting time after a family court action has started.  The orders made after an interim application for parenting time are intended to be used as a “stop-gap” measure until a trial of the action, or an agreement between the parties is reached. Interim orders are subject to frequent change. Final Orders, not so much.

An final parenting Order happens after trial. Trials result in final orders and generally conclude any issues between the parties that have not been resolved since separation. Trial is the very last step of a court action, and it can easily be at least a year from the time a family law action has been started to the date of the trial. A final Order often can only be changed if there is a ‘material change in the circumstances’ as explained here.

How to Obtain an Interim Parenting Order?

Both the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act set out the law to be applied for interim parenting time applications.  Court applications that are made prior to trial:

  • use affidavit evidence to support the order a party is seeking, and to support the other party’s position on that order.
  • The judge reviews the written application materials and supporting affidavits and listens to the parties’ legal arguments in favour of their position.
  • Occasionally, lawyers can cross-examine the opposing party in court if there is an inconsistency or if the parties are making conflicting statements about the same thing in their affidavits.
  • Judge makes an Order.

Because applications use evidence from written documents, the evidence that can be put to a judge during an application is very limited. To learn more about interim applications, click here. 

How to Obtain a Final Parenting Order?

In order to obtain a final parenting Order, you will need to either attend and finish trial and get a judgment, or reach a final agreement on all parenting issues through alternative dispute resolution.

If trial is necessary to finalize a parenting Order:

  • During the trial, the lawyer can ask his/her client about his/her direct evidence while the client is in the witness stand.
  • The client can be asked about their knowledge of different documents that might help the judge resolve the issue.
  • The other party can be cross-examined on their oral evidence and any other evidence the party has already given under oath.
  • When a s. 211 report has been prepared and submitted as evidence, each lawyer can ask the psychologist who prepared the court questions to clarify the issues and the recommendations that are made. Sometimes the psychologist gets cross examined if one parent things the psychologist’s recommendation is wrong or not in the best interests of the children.

To learn about family law trials at the BC Supreme Court and what you need to do to get ready for them, click here. 

I have a parenting time dispute, what should I do?

In most cases, parents are the people who are best suited to decide what the best interests of their children are.  Parents are required by the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act to put the best interests of the child first when considering parenting arrangements. The Divorce Act even imposes a duty on parties who have started a court action to protect children from conflict arising from the proceeding to the best of their ability.

Most-parents who reach an out of court agreement on parenting time, whether it is on their own, through a lawyer, a mediator, or a combination of a lawyer and mediator, are satisfied with the agreed upon result.  In contrast, parents who receive a court ordered parenting schedule must accept the limitations of the court system and recognize that a judge may not decide that their evidence is sufficient to order the parenting time they are seeking.

If you cannot reach an agreement with your co-parent on parenting time, or if you would like to receive legal advice before proposing a parenting schedule to your co-parent, a parenting time lawyer can provide you with your options.  In those cases where an agreement cannot be reached, a parenting time lawyer can represent you in court to make an application for interim parenting time until you reach final agreement with the opposing party or a final order is made.

But remember, the judge is not your hero. Leaving decisions in the hands of a stranger to decide the future of your child and spending tens of thousands of dollars on it, is not the best option. No matter how difficult you think your ex is, try to settle, even if it means you have to give up. If you settle, you likely won’t regret the decision. If you go to a judge, you may regret your decision for the rest of your life. Worse, your child would have to hear about his or her parents facing each other in court. No child should go through that if it is not necessary.

To contact our award winning parenting time lawyers at YLaw for a consultation or strategy, get in touch or call 604-974-9529

Written by Leena Yousefi in collaboration with Krista Lidstone – June, 2021.

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