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Custody and access

Enforcing custody and access orders

There are a number of ways for parents to enforce custody and access orders in the event that the other party is not cooperating with a parenting schedule. A court order is expected to be obeyed, and failure to do so can result in serious consequences for the non-compliant parent. These consequences can include contempt proceedings, which can result in a financial penalty, and in rare cases, a term of imprisonment. Failure to abide by the terms of an order could also result in a review of the existing parenting provisions. Police enforcement of custody and access is available where a court order provides for police enforcement, or when there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a child is at immediate risk of harm or is being unlawfully withheld.

Changing custody and access orders

Circumstances change, especially when children are involved, but when a court issues a custody and access order, it is meant to be final unless it states otherwise. The order cannot be changed simply because one of the parents is not satisfied with the ruling, and seeking a change can be a complicated matter for which comprehensive legal advice should be obtained. The primary threshold to meet if you wish to change a custody or access order is proving that there has been a ‘material change in circumstances’ of the children which warrants a change. A material change has been interpreted to mean a significant change in the child’s life since the last custody order was made or an agreement for custody was entered into by the parties, which was not foreseeable at that time. The change must have altered the child’s needs or the ability of the parents to meet those needs in a fundamental way. 

Moving out of the family home

If you move out of the family home without your children, you may be prejudicing your rights to their custody or to an adequate residential schedule with them in the future. Conversely, you cannot move the children out of the family home without the other parent’s consent or court order. In certain situations involving physical or emotional abuse, a parent may have good grounds to leave the family home with their children without agreement, but this needs to be handled carefully, and you should get advice from a family law lawyer as soon as possible.


Holidays can be a contentious time for separated parents. There is no preferred access schedule for separated parents to follow when it comes to holidays, and the schedule included in a parenting agreement largely depends on where the parents live, what their traditions are, and what is in the best interest of their children. If you don’t have a clear agreement on how to share holidays with the children and your former spouse, you risk disappointment for such special times during the year. Our family law team can help you in negotiating and creating such agreements.

Grandparent access

In Ontario, grandparents do not have a presumptive right of custody or access to their grandchildren. This means that if the parents separate, or one dies, or a grandparent becomes alienated from their grandchildren for other reasons, there is no automatic right that grandparents have to contact with their grandchildren. However, a grandparent may apply to the court for an order for custody or access to a child. When determining if a grandparent should be granted custody or access to their grandchildren, the court applies the same test it always uses when determining custody and access to a child. That is, whether the order will be in the best interests of the child. Grandparent rights are complicated and you should get the assistance of a family law lawyer to help guide you through the process.

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