Question: I had a baby with my girlfriend two years ago. My girlfriend and I separated shortly after our son was born. He is now two years old and we have been trying to parent him together. He lives with her the majority of the time and I see him every second weekend and one day per week. Lately however, my girlfriend is saying I cannot see him as often and she is not involving me in the decisions concerning him. What are my rights and responsibilities? What is my legal status to him?
Answer: The legislation which you should refer to is the Family Law Act. You should concern yourself with “guardianship” and “parenting” under the act. You will want to ensure that you are considered a guardian of the child.
Guardianship is a bundle of rights and responsibilities held by an adult to be exercised for the benefit of the child. Every child under the age of 18 must have a guardian unless the child is married or is an adult interdependent partner (usually referred to as “common-law” partner). A child may have more than one guardian. The act outlines the powers, responsibilities and entitlements of a guardian. Firstly and most importantly, these shall be exercised in the best interests of the child. Also, if there is more than one guardian, the guardians shall use their best efforts to co-operate with one another.
If you are the guardian of a child, you have the right to be informed of and consulted about the child and to make all significant decisions affecting the child. You also have the right to have sufficient contact with the child to carry out your powers and responsibilities.
As guardian, your responsibilities to your child are to nurture his physical, psychological and emotional development and to guide him toward independent adulthood. You also have the responsibility of ensuring that he has the necessaries of life, including medical care, food, clothing and shelter.
As guardian, you may make various decisions concerning your child including, day-to-day decisions and decisions about the child’s residence, education, religion and more.
As of Aug. 1, 2011, important changes have been implemented to the act to the definition of guardian. Essentially, if you are the biological parent of the child, you are a guardian if you acknowledge that the child is yours and you demonstrate an intention to assume the responsibilities of a guardian in relation to the child. As a biological father of the child, one of the ways to have acknowledged that the child is yours is if you have been named on the child’s registration of live birth. To demonstrate an intention to assume the responsibilities of a guardian you may do any of the following:
• Marry the mother before or after the child is born;
• Live with the mother for a year during which time the child is born;
• Live in an adult interdependent partnership with the mother at the time the child is born or after the child is born;
• Voluntarily support or offer to support the mother during or after the pregnancy or voluntarily support or offer to support the child.
You are either deemed a guardian according to the guardianship terms set out in the act as outlined above or you may apply to the Court to be appointed a guardian. Also, if you and your ex-girlfriend are unable to agree when you will see the child and the extent to which you will be involved in the decision-making concerning the child you may want to consider putting an agreement or Order with respect to parenting in place. A parenting order may limit your entitlements, powers and responsibilities as a guardian as outlined above.
Legally Speaking appears every second week in LIFE. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific legal problem should consult a lawyer. This week’s column was written by Klara Cozens, of the Red Deer law firm Duhamel Manning Feehan Warrender Glass. Cozens can be reached at 343-0812 or at www.reddeeraltalaw.com