What does it mean to be a guardian?

The Law

A guardian is responsible for their child’s care and upbringing. Only a guardian may have parental responsibilities and parenting time.

The Family Law Act provides that generally both parents will continue to be guardians after separation and each will have parenting time and parental responsibilities.

This does not mean that parents must have equal time or responsibility or that they must act together on all matters. Each parent has guardianship and each parent has parental responsibilities, which may be shared or exercised separately depending on what is best for their child.

Parenting arrangements set out how guardians share parenting time and parental responsibilities after separation. When you make parenting arrangements after a separation, the law says you must only consider the best interests of the child.

Parenting time is the time a guardian spends with the children. During parenting time, you make day-to-day decisions about the children and you are responsible for their supervision and care. When you separate you need to decide how you are going to divide parenting time.

Parental responsibilities are the responsibilities guardians have when raising a child, including:

  • Daily decisions made when you are caring for the child
  • Important decisions like those related to education, religion, and medical treatment
  • Receiving information (including about health and education) about the child from others, and
  • Protecting the child’s legal and financial interests

Parents can tailor their parenting arrangements to their family’s circumstances. The only requirement when making decisions respecting parenting arrangements is that the arrangements must be in the child’s best interest.

The Family Law Act provides a list of parental responsibilities that may be shared, so that each parent may exercise the same responsibility, or allocated only to one guardian but not the other.

Some examples

You may decide that the children will live mostly with one parent, or spend an equal time with each parent, or anything in between. In most cases, both you and the other parent will continue to be guardians.

Examples of tailored parenting arrangements might include:

  • Guardians will each have all of the parenting responsibilities and will share time and responsibility in a co-parenting arrangement
  • Guardians will clearly allocate the parental responsibilities, providing each parent with different responsibility over particular areas or during their parenting time. For example, the guardians might agree that one deals with the child’s extra-curricular activities and the other deals with school, or
  • One guardian has the majority of the parenting time and parental responsibility, and the other guardian has defined parenting time and limited parental responsibilities, such as the ability to access information about the child

In some cases, it may not be appropriate for a parent to remain a guardian. A parent can be removed as guardian by agreement or court order. If a parent is not a guardian, they can still have time with the child — contact — but will not have any parental responsibilities.

We recommend that you get legal advice before you make decisions about your future parenting arrangements.

For more information, please see the fact sheets Parenting Apart and Guardianship: Parenting Time and Parenting Responsibilities by the Legal Services Society.