The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses how both parents can enforce and manage parenting and contact rights with their child. When parents no longer live together, it becomes difficult to parent their child and fulfill their parental responsibilities in a way that will satisfy both parents’ schedules and needs while also acting in the best interests of a child. A court may grant either a parenting or contact order in order to help overcome such difficulties and any disagreements.
Parenting orders are new to family law and encourage both parents to be involved with the child in most cases. The Court may make a Parenting Order when a child has more than one guardian (usually parents) who live apart and need assistance in cooperating in raising their child. A Parenting Order can break down parenting time and responsibilities between the guardians. A Parenting Order also sets out how decisions about the child are to be made and how the child’s time is shared between the parents. It can also include a process on resolving future disputes between the parents in regards to the parenting arrangement. Once the parenting order is granted, the court may impose it for a length of time it finds appropriate in the circumstances.
A Contact Order addresses the contact rights of grandparents and others who are important to the child but are not a legal guardian of that child. Contact orders give these persons right to communicate with the child via visitation, phone calls, letters, etc. However, it does not give them any rights over the child whatsoever. Generally, only the child’s guardian may apply for the contact order for these members. The exception to this rule is the child’s grandparents, who don’t need the guardian to apply for a contact order for them and may do so themselves if the guardians are the parents of that child and live separately or if one of them has died. Prior to approving a Contact Order, the Court considers the following factors:
- Contact would be in the best interest of the child;
- The child’s physical, mental, or emotional health will be jeopardized if contact is denied; and
- The guardians’ denial of contact is unreasonable.
- The significance of the relationship between the child and the close person.
How to file for an Order
Applications for Parenting or Contact Orders may be brought by unmarried or married couples. However, if there is an existing divorce action between the guardians, applications should be brought under the current action that has already started to prevent multiple ongoing actions and applications. Unless the Court orders otherwise, a person who is granted time and responsibilities over the child has the right to make inquiries and to be given information as to the health, education, and welfare of the child. Repeated denials of access to this information could constitute a basis for contempt or in extreme cases, cause the Court to change the arrangements in the order.
You may apply to any Alberta Court for a Parenting or Contact Order. Once you fill out the forms, you may file them at the Family Division of the Provincial Court or the Court of Queen’s Bench. To make an application in Provincial Court, you can ask for the forms from the Family Justice Services at the Courthouse, or get them online at https://albertacourts.ca/pc/areas-of-law/family/forms-and-publications. The forms for the Queen’s Bench can be found online at https://albertacourts.ca/qb/areas-of-law/family/family-law-forms. If you wish to make an application in the Court of Queen’s Bench, please call the Family Law Information Centre to obtain the necessary forms. Their number in Calgary is 403-297-7538. The number in Edmonton is 780-422-2492. An application in the Court of Queen’s Bench is more complex and you may want a lawyer to represent you. If your children do not live in Alberta, you must make the application to the Court in the province where the children live. Consult with a lawyer if this is your case.
A hearing date will be set and you may represent yourself in the Family Division of the Provincial Court if you wish. If a Court date has been set, then you or your lawyer should appear in Court on that day. If you are unable to attend Court on the date set you should contact the Court Clerks. If you do not appear, the Court could set a new date and not inform you of that date or can even proceed with the hearing and make a decision without you. If you are the applicant and decide not to show up, the matter could even be dismissed.
If you already have a Court Order but the parenting time or contact arrangements are no longer suitable, you may ask the Court to vary or change the Order. The Court may change an Order if it finds that the circumstances of a child have changed since the last Order was made and it is in the child’s best interests for the change to be made.
An Enforcement Order is an Order made by the Court to enforce a parent or guardian’s time with a child. This applies to Parenting Orders and Contact Orders. This application may be brought to the Court by a person who was denied of their right to time with the child. An Enforcement Order approved by a Court may require a person who interfered with the other person’s right under a time with a child, to give lost time with the child, reimbursement or security and the Court may also impose a penalty or imprisonment against the person that denied or interfered with the other person’s rightful time with the child.
Lawyers and the Judiciary have been working diligently to create workable solutions for families where parenting time and contact are in conflict. Alternative options besides applying for a Parenting or Contact Order in Court include Collaborative Law, case management, Judicial Dispute Resolution, mediation, four-way meetings, and Family Court Counseling Services. Please consult with a lawyer to determine whether any of the above options can help you resolve all or part of the family conflict.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.