According to child custody laws in the province of Ontario, if one parent is awarded sole custody of a child, or if there is split custody (an arrangement where each parent has sole custody of at least one of the children), the non-custodial parent will be awarded visitation (access) rights. Such rights include not only the right to see the child on a regular basis, but also the right to information about the health, education and well-being of the child.
Access and visitation rights are awarded because it is often in the best interests of the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. However, the parameters of such rights vary from case to case, depending on the circumstances surrounding the custody agreement. The parents may agree to certain visitation arrangements or, if they are unable to agree, a judge may specify visitation rights. Three common forms of visitation rights are reasonable access, fixed access and supervised access.
If the parents are on agreeable terms and wish to have a flexible access arrangement, they may simply include language in the custody agreement stating that the non-custodial parent will have “reasonable access” to the child. This indicates that the non-custodial parent will be able to visit with the child on a reasonable basis and that the custodial parent will not hinder that parent from doing so. However, visits are not necessarily set at particular dates and times, allowing for a flexible arrangement that is convenient and easily altered if any surrounding circumstances change.
If the parents tend to argue and will not likely be able to agree on flexible visitation terms, the child custody agreement, or court order, will likely specify “fixed access.” Fixed access states how often child visitation will occur, how such visits will take place, and how long each visit will last. This is a less flexible arrangement, but creates clear guidelines that must be followed by both parents.
If there are concerns over how a non-custodial parent may behave around a child, or about any difficulties during the actual exchange of a child between the parents, a judge may order supervised access. In such cases, the non-custodial parent has visitation rights, but another adult must be present when that parent and the child are together. This form of visitation is often ordered when there has been a lengthy separation between the parent and child, a history of drug or alcohol use by the non-custodial parent, child abuse or attempts.
When supervised exchanges take place, the other adult may be a relative or a friend. However, parents also have the option to participate through the Supervised Access Program offered through the Ministry of the Attorney General. Through this program, parents may simply take their children to supervised access centers, where children can be safely exchanged and safe visits can occur under the supervision of trained staff members. Safety measures taken by supervised access centers include staggered drop-off and pick-up hours, a front-door attendant, staff members who accompany children while at the center, security checks for staff members and volunteers kidnapping, and enclosed outdoor play areas. Not only does this program offer a safe haven for children to visit with their parents, it also allows the court system to monitor the visits and ensure that they are conducted in a safe manner.
Families are entitled to use the Supervised Access Program if they have a court order for supervised visits, or if both parties agree in writing to the use of a supervised access center. However, most supervised access centers charge a fee for using their services, although this fee is lowered, or waived, for families who are unable to pay the full amount.
When are Child Visitation Rights Denied?
Because courts usually feel that it is in the best interest of a child to maintain a relationship with both parents, child visitation and access rights are rarely denied. However, access may be denied when:
- There is a history of abuse, or neglect, and the child does not wish to see the non-custodial parent
- There is a history of abduction or not returning the child to the custodial parent
Even in these instances, the court will usually grant supervised or restricted access. Restricted access may include:
- A requirement that the parent not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs prior to, or during, visitation
- Requiring both parents to refrain from making negative comments about each other in the child’s presence
- Access required at the grandparents’ house or the home of the custodial parent
Access may still be denied if visitation is not appropriate, even with restrictions or supervision. Even if access is denied, the non-custodial parent must still continue paying child support and spousal support. Likewise, if a non-custodial parent is granted visitation rights in a divorce, the custodial parent may not deny access, even if the non-custodial parent is delinquent on Toronto child support payments.
Awarding Child Visitation Rights to Other Family Members
Child custody and visitation disputes typically involve the biological or adoptive parents of a child. However, in some instances, another family member, such as a grandparent, step-parent, aunt, or uncle, may wish to have child visitation rights. The custodial parent may voluntarily grant access and visitation to:
- The non-custodial parent
- Any of the child’s grandparents
- Aunts, uncles, or other family members of the child
- Anyone else who wishes to regularly visit the child
Under child visitation laws, even if the custodial parent refuses to voluntarily grant access to any of the above parties, that person may apply for visitation rights. When determining whether to grant such rights, the court will look at the best interests of the child. More specifically, the court will determine whether:
- It would be beneficial for the child to have a relationship with that person
- The child already has a close relationship with that individual
- Allowing access would be in the child’s best overall interests
Enforcement of Child Visitation Agreements
Child visitation agreements may be enforced by petitioning the court if the custodial parent is being denied custody. The court can then order the Sheriff to find and deliver the child to the custodial parent. If the non-custodial parent is violating the custody agreement or court order, the court may place restrictions on the visits, such as:
- Supervision of future visits
- Mediation of any disagreements that caused the violation of the custody agreement
- Access at a particular location
It is a criminal offense to remove a child from his custodial parent unless that parent consents, even if the person abducting the child is the child’s other biological parent. Accordingly, if your child has been abducted by his or her non-custodial parent, you can call the police and have that parent arrested.