For unmarried people, the Family Law Act sections 42 & 59 uses the terms “Parenting Time” for guardians and “Contact” for non-guardians.
Parenting Time is the time that a child spends with a guardian. Generally, during Parenting Time a guardian may exercise the responsibility of day-to-day decision making affecting the child.
Contact is the time that a child spends with a non-guardian. The difference between Contact and Parenting Time is that during Contact the non-guardian is not provided with the responsibility for making day-to-day decision making affecting the child.
For married people, the Divorce Act section 16 uses the term “Access” to encompass all time an adult has with a child.
To determine how much Parenting Time, Contact or Access a person has a with a child, courts generally begin with the principle of “maximum contact”. That is, the more time a child has with loved ones, the better. However, this is a very general starting point. Very young children are not able to split their time between parents and must spend significantly more time with their primary caregiver until about age two. Children in school usually require continuity in their residence, and may, for example, have visits on alternating weekends with one week night per week. Some relationships involve a history of violence or substance abuse, and this can lead to Parenting Time, Contact or Access being restricted to day times only, public places, supervision by a third party friend or family member, or even supervision by a professional agency. After a child reaches about age twelve, as he or she gets older, their own views on Parenting Time, Contact or Access become more important.