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Separation and divorce

How do judges decide on child custody when the parents can’t agree?

When parents separate, one of the first things they need to do is determine when their child will spend time with each parent. This is called “custody” or “parenting time.” When parents are unable to agree on this point, a judge can decide.

When can you ask a judge to rule on custody?

You can ask a judge to rule on custody as soon as you break up.

You can file an urgent application, also called an “application for a safeguard order” to get a decision quickly, i.e., within a few days or weeks. In this case, the judge’s decision is temporary, and you’ll have to go back to court to ask the judge to render a permanent decision.

To get a permanent decision, you have to submit a written application using the normal judicial process. You can submit it at the same time as your other applications related to your separation or divorce (e.g., application for divorce, application to decide on the partition of property, etc.).

In that case, your permanent parenting schedule will be established when the judge renders a decision on the other applications.

As your child’s needs evolve or if there are major changes in his or her life, you can go back before a judge to modify the parenting schedule.

Please note

As a general rule, before a judge rules on custody, both parents can see their child whenever they want, as long as it’s in the child’s best interests.

What issues can a judge decide?

Regardless of the type of application you make, you must indicate your wishes regarding custody.

For example, you can specify the schedule you want and, if necessary, a special schedule for certain periods of the year (e.g., vacations, statutory holidays, birthdays, long weekends, etc.).

You can also ask a judge to:

  • Prohibit the other parent from behaving in a certain way when he or she is with the children (e.g., denigrating the other parent, using drugs, etc.).
  • Order that the other parent be supervised when spending time with the child, which is called “supervised access” or “supervised parenting time.”

En apprendre plus

Qu’est-ce que la supervision des droits d’accès ? (in French only)  (Regroupement québécois des ressources de supervision des droits d’accès)

En apprendre plus

Preventing or Limiting Contact Between a Parent and a Child (Éducaloi)

Did you know?

Since March 2021, the Divorce Act has used the term "parenting time" instead of "custody" and "access" to refer to the time the child spends with each parent. Therefore, you may find this expression in your legal proceedings or in judgments rendered by the courts.

The terms "custody" and “access” remain in effect for de facto spouses, however.


The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.

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