The Family Law Act (FLA) contemplates a variety of ways that people can be parents. There was a lot of work put into this part of the FLA and it had a lot of input from the LGBT community. The goal of the FLA is to contemplate a variety of parenting arrangements and provide for parenting ‘rights’ for all people involved in a child’s life – regardless of how they come to be involved.
Part 3 of the FLA is where to begin when considering who is a parent of a child. Part 3 provides a wide variety of scenarios where a person can be the parent of a child – whether that child is born through assisted reproduction (during the life and death of either of the donors), through adoption and through surrogacy. The FLA also captures the non-donor partner in a lesbian or gay couple (where one partner has either donated the sperm or the egg) as a parent in the wording of the various definitions of a parent.
Interestingly enough, Part 3 starts at paragraph 20, however parentage as the result of a traditional relationship is not contemplated until paragraph 26!!! I think this is an interesting reflection on the different realities of parenting in our society today.
Determining who a parent is under the FLA is very important because only parents are guardians of minor children. This is important because only guardians of a child can have parenting time with a child and exercise parenting responsibilities with regards to a child. Section 41 of the FLA details what parenting responsibilities are (this is not an exhaustive list – they never are!). Parenting responsibilities including making the day to day decisions about where the child lives, who the child lives with, making medical decisions relating to the child, applying for a passport for the child etc.
So, to break it down – in order to have a say in the day to day decisions of the child that you have with your partner (same sex, common law – whatever), you need to be a guardian. In order to be a guardian, you need to be a parent. So … the rights of anyone, whether they are in a traditional heterosexual relationship, whether they are in a homosexual relationship or whether they are the surrogate of a baby can all be determined by figuring out first if you qualify as a parent under part 3 of the FLA. There are no different rights afforded to heterosexual couples under the FLA and the goal of the FLA was to be more inclusive of all parents, regardless of what their relationship with the child’s other parent looked like.
Upon the breakdown of a relationship under the FLA, parental rights are the same regardless of what the relationship looked like. If you are a parent of a child – you are the guardian of that child and therefore have a right to parenting time and the exercise of parenting responsibilities. Here’s hoping that this affords everyone who has a relationship breakdown the same protections and rights to continue their relationship with their children.