Learn how to keep your children and pets safe if you leave.
Can you take your children with you when you leave? This is tricky. First, make sure your children are safe. If you take them with you, apply as soon as you can to the court for an interim parenting order. This is a temporary order giving you primary care and control of your children. Make getting a parenting order part of your safety planning.
Keep reading to also learn more about how to keep your pets safe if you leave.
Taking Your Children
If the person causing harm is your children’s parent, they have a right to see your children unless the court says otherwise. The court will decide on parenting time based on the child’s best interests. The law does not say how much time a child should spend with each parent.
Canada’s Divorce Act says a parent must give notice of a change of residence or relocation to the other parent and people having contact with the children. It also says you can apply to the court without notice to the other parent to waive this requirement in cases of family violence. Read our Moving and the Divorce Act info sheet to learn more.
It is a good idea to get legal help about parenting your children before you leave your relationship. Read our Legal Help page for information about finding a lawyer.
Leaving or the end of an abusive relationship can be a dangerous time.
The person causing harm may see they are losing control and may react violently. If possible, leave when they are gone and do not tell them you are leaving.
Interim Parenting Orders in Alberta
An interim parenting order is a temporary court order about parenting arrangements.
Parenting arrangements include:
- where the children will live
- how the parents will look after the children
- how the parents will make decisions about the children
- how the parents should communicate with each other
Parenting time is the time a parent has with the child. During this time a parent has responsibility for the child. They can make day-to-day decisions about the child unless the court orders otherwise. Both parents can make major decisions for the children unless the court also orders otherwise. This is called decision-making responsibility (in Canada’s Divorce Act) or the responsibilities of guardianship (in Alberta’s Family Law Act).
An interim parenting order is not final. The court can review the order and make changes as necessary, usually over time or as the situation changes.
Getting an Interim Parenting Order
You should apply for an interim parenting order as soon as you safely can. If you can, apply before you leave your relationship.
If your situation is urgent or unsafe, you may be able to apply for an emergency interim parenting order without notice to the other parent. This means you appear in court without telling the other person that you are doing so. Sometimes the court can grant interim parenting orders within 24 hours. Usually these orders are only good for a short time until the court can safely hear from both parents.
The court always makes parenting decisions in the best interests of the child. This means the parenting order or plan must protect the child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety, as well as the child’s needs and security.
One of the factors the court considers when looking at the best interests of the child is whether there has been family violence and the impact of the violence on the child. Both Canada’s Divorce Act (for married people) and Alberta’s Family Law Act (for married and unmarried people) list family violence as a factor for the court to think about when making a decision in the best interests of the children. You must give the court evidence to convince them that spending time with the other parent is not in the child’s best interests.
Remember though, just because the court finds there is family violence, the court may still decide it is in the child’s best interests to spend time with the other parent. The court may find the person causing harm to you may still be able to safely parent your children. The court can also order safety measures for a parent’s time with the children, such as supervision, time together only in public places, or contact only by phone or video chat.
What Can Happen If You Do Not Get an Interim Parenting Order
Unless the court says otherwise, parents in Alberta must make major decisions about their children together. One parent cannot move with the children without the permission of either the other parent or the court.
If you do not get a court order allowing you to keep your children with you, you can face serious consequences. The other parent may claim you kidnapped the children, and you could face criminal charges. The other parent may apply to court for a parenting order before you do. Withholding the children from the other parent without a court order can reflect badly on you when you eventually go to court.
Sometimes parents can agree on parenting their children when they separate without going to court. You should still think about getting a parenting order if any of the following are true:
- You are concerned about your children’s safety when they are with the other parent. A good question to ask is: “If we were still in a relationship, would I leave the children alone with the other parent or guardian?”
- You feel unsafe or intimidated by your spouse or partner.
- Your spouse or partner has not let you see your children.
- Your spouse or partner is ignoring the situation and will not deal with your relationship breakdown.
- Your spouse or partner has taken the children and cannot be found.
- You are concerned your spouse or partner may try to remove the children from Canada.
TIP | Learn more about parenting time and orders at www.cplea.ca/family.
Taking Your Pets
You have a few options for keeping your pet safe:
- ask a trusted friend or family member to look after your pet
- if you are applying for an Emergency Protection Order, include your pet in the order to protect them
- use the Pet Safekeeping Program
Pet Safekeeping Program
The SPCA offers temporary care for pets of those experiencing domestic violence who need to leave and have no other space for their pets. The program is free to those in need. Access the program through a shelter or by calling 211.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is parenting time the same as custody?
The Divorce Act used to use the term custody to talk about legal guardianship of the children of a marriage. Custody referred to a parent’s time with a child and ability to make decisions for the child. Now we use parenting time to talk about a parent’s time with a child, and decision-making responsibility or the responsibilities of guardianship to talk about a parent’s ability to make significant decisions for a child.
Can I take my children with me to live in a shelter?
Yes, many shelters will take in children with the parent. Call the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters helpline (1.866.331.3933) to find a shelter near you.
What information will a judge need to decide about parenting time?
The judge deciding on an interim parenting order will want to know:
- basic information like the names and ages of the children
- any special needs or health concerns the children have
- who has been the primary caregiver for the children
- the basic facts of the relationship breakdown and why living together is no longer possible
- your proposal for where you and the children will live
- childcare or after school care arrangements, if necessary
- financial details about how you and the children will live
- the children’s extracurricular, school, sports and community activities and any special relationships with extended family and how these matters may be least disrupted for your children, and
- any other important factors that will have an impact on the best interests of your children.
All this information should be in an affidavit that you must swear or affirm is true.
What can I do if the other parent breaks the parenting order?
You can immediately go back to court for help. The court can order the police to enforce the order. The terms of the order should be specific and very clear so there is no confusion. The police will need clear evidence of the order being disobeyed. The person who resists enforcement of a parenting order can be fined or sent to jail.
What if I am afraid the other parent will take the children out of Canada? Or what if the other parent has already taken the children out of Canada?
If your children are abducted, report it to the police. Canada has agreements with some other countries about recognizing and enforcing parenting orders made in Canada. Read a LawNow article on international child abduction to learn more.