Parent’s Obligations to their Children

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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

This topic discusses the rights and responsibilities of parents towards their children.

In Alberta, the ability to make decisions with regard to a child is tied to guardianship status rather than parentage status, whether the guardians are in an intact relationship or not. According to the Family Law Act, a parent will automatically become a guardian by operation of law provided that the parent becomes aware of the pregnancy or becomes aware of the birth of the child, whichever is earlier, within 1 year. If the parents become separated, both parents continue their guardianship rights but must make arrangements for custody of the child. Custody is the rights and responsibilities of the children’s care and upbringing. There are various types of custody, such as joint custody, sole custody, shared custody or shared parenting, and split custody or split parenting. Parents should agree to the type of custody that will be in the “best interests” of the child.

Under Section 20 of the Family Law Act, a person who is a parent of a child can automatically become a guardian by operation of law, provided that the parent becomes aware of the pregnancy or becomes aware of the birth of the child (whichever is earlier) within one year. This provision is amended to protect the interests of the parental guardian who steps up at birth to care for the child. Despite the biological mother’s intention to exclude the biological father by failing to advise him of the pregnancy or the child’s birth, the biological father can now automatically become a parental guardian if he is aware of the pregnancy or birth of the child within one year. In addition, the parents of the child are presumed to be guardians of the child if they cohabited for 12 consecutive months during which the child was born, or were adult interdependent partners before or after the child was born.

Legal guardianship gives an adult the right to make decisions for a child with respect to the following:

  • Ensure that the child has the necessaries of life, including medical care, food, clothing, and shelter
  • Consenting to medical, dental, and other health-related treatment for the child
  • Deciding what education the child will receive
  • Deciding on the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious, and spiritual upbringing and heritage
  • Deciding where the child will live and with whom
  • Deciding whether the child should work and, if so, the nature and extent of the work, for whom the work is to be done and related matters
  • Giving consent to a child to marry if between the ages of 16 and 18 years
  • Giving consent to a child to obtain a learner’s license
  • Representing the child in a law suit
  • Managing every aspect of the child’s daily life including their physical, psychological, emotional and financial well being

Child support is provided to children under 18 years of age and who has not withdrawn from their parents’ charge, or is the age of majority but unable, by reason of illness, disability, or other cause to withdraw from their parents’ charge or to obtain the necessaries of life. The amount of the child support payments depends upon many things such as the ability to pay and the financial needs of the child. If child support is not paid voluntarily, a complaint is made against the non-paying parent. A mother can make a claim any time after she becomes pregnant. Once the complaint is made, Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) will contact the other parent. An attempt to make a child support agreement will be made with the non-paying parent. Once the agreement is signed, legal action can be taken if the parent does not make the support payments.

A Support Agreement for child support may be made between the parents or a Court Order for support can be made by a Judge. There is no connection between financial support and access. If the paying parent does not pay support, you cannot refuse your spouse access to the child. In the same way, if your spouse refuses to allow you visits with the child, you cannot withhold the support money. If this happens, you may apply to Court for an access or Support Order if you do not have one or if you want to have a Judge rule on the enforcement of existing Orders.

You must not neglect your child who under the age of 18 years. The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act of Alberta will protect children who are in the following situations:

  • A child not being properly cared for,
  • A child emotionally deprived,
  • A child physically or sexually abused,
  • A child in danger,
  • A child abandoned or deserted.

The Alberta Children and Youth Services can seize your child with or without a warrant if it is reasonably suspected that the child is neglected. A peace officer may report an offence committed by a child under the age of 12 years to the Director of Alberta Children and Youth Services. The Director will investigate the report and take the appropriate measures such as placing the child in protective services if necessary. You may discipline your child if the punishment is reasonable. If your punishment goes too far, your acts may be considered as neglect of the child. You can be fined or imprisoned or both for not properly caring for your child under both the Criminal Code and the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.

By law, children living in Alberta must attend school from ages 6 to 16. Public education is provided free of charge for children and young people less than 20 years of age, up to the end of high school. Usually a child is sent to a school designated by the local school board. You may also apply to the school board for approval to allow you to educate your child at home.

Your permission to any medical treatment for your child is usually required until the child is 18 years old. In an emergency, however, medical professionals will do what is necessary to save the child’s life even if you have not yet given your permission. If you refuse to give permission in a medical emergency, the child may be made a ward of the Court because he or she would be considered to be neglected. The type of medical treatment considered essential will vary. For example, if you refused to allow the child to be vaccinated you could be found to have neglected your child. For more information on this area, it is advisable to consult a lawyer.

You may not change your child’s name without their permission if the child is 12 years of age and older. If you are divorced and have custody of a child from a former marriage, you require the consent of your ex‑spouse to change the child’s name.

Your child cannot leave home without your permission until they are 16 years of age. Furthermore, your child requires your permission to marry until he or she reaches the age of 18 years. If you refuse to grant your permission the child can apply to the Court to dispense with your permission. The child would have to demonstrate that you were unreasonable in not giving your consent. Usually the consent of both parents is required but this may be dispensed with if, for example, you are divorced and have sole custody of your child.

This topic covers some of your parental rights and obligations. If you require further information on specific questions you may contact the Lawyer Referral Service for legal counsel at 403-228-1722.