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The Language of Family Law – 4 Most Commonly Confused Words: Custody, Access, Guardianship, and Parenting

One of the most confusing things about family law is the terminology. The legal meanings of words like custody and guardianship are misunderstood. This is due to two factors. First, the words have very specific meanings that are easily confused. Secondly, there are multiple pieces of legislation that govern family issues in Alberta, each with their own set of definitions.


The four most commonly confused words are custody, access, guardianship, and parenting.


In Alberta, if you are seeking a divorce and the issue of child custody arises, the Divorce Act will apply. If you are not married, or are not seeking a divorce but still have custody issues to sort out, the Family Law Act of Alberta will apply. The Divorce Act uses the terms “custody” and “access”. The Family Law act uses the terms “guardianship” and “parenting”.


The terms custody and guardianship are often confused with where a child will reside. Residency is only one aspect under the umbrella of these terms. Custody and guardianship relate to the major decision-making required in raising a child, including residency, religion, education and health care.


Access and Parenting Time refers to the time each parent spends with the child. This may refer to in-person contact, but also to other forms such as electronic contact (Skype, email), or phone contact. This contact may be specified in a court order, or left up to the parties to arrange between themselves.


There are a variety of ways in how parents organize contact with their children in a separation, or how decision making is shared between separated parties. If you require assistance with this issue, please feel free to contact our office to speak to one of our experienced Calgary Lawyers.




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