What is a Parent? By Megan Brohman

Every family looks different. When there are children involved, it is important to know the role the adults in the home play in the life of the child.


Biological Children

          For a biological child and parent, it is easy. The birth parent of the child is recognized in law as the parent of the child (Children’s Law Reform Act, s 6(1)). The exception to this rule is surrogacy; surrogates give up their entitlement to parentage via surrogacy agreement or declaration by a court (CLRA, s 6(2)).


Adopted Children

            In the case of adopted children, the guiding statute is the Child, Youth and Family Services Act. As of the date the adoption order is made, the adopted child is treated, by law, as if they are the biological child of the adopted parent (CYFSA, s 2(a)). The adoption order effectively breaks all legal ties between the child and the birth parents (CYFSA, s 2(b)). Therefore, as of the date of the adoption order, the person whose name is on the order becomes the legal parent of the adopted child, whereas the birth parent ceases to have any parenting role or legal ties to the child.



            When it comes to stepchildren, the Divorce Act is the guiding statute. The Divorce Act uses the term “child of the marriage”, which includes the child of two spouses or former spouses where: (Divorce Act, section 2(2))


     (a) the spouses stand in the place of parents; and

     (b) one spouse is the parent and the other spouse stands in the place of a parent.


The term “stand in the place of a parent” is also referred to as loco parentis. Essentially, a person who stands in the place of a parent will be deemed by the court to be a parent of that child. When determining whether a person in standing in the place of a parent, the court will consider several factors outlined in Chartier v Chartier (para 39), including:


     (a) Intention (expressed or implied) to assume parental obligations

     (b) The fact of forming a family with the child, including considering:


  1. Whether the child participates in their extended family
  2. Whether they provide financially for the child
  3. Whether they discipline the child as a parent
  4. Whether they represent to the child, their family, and the world that they are responsible as a parent to the child
  5. The nature and existence of any relationship between the child and the absent biological parent.

If these criteria are satisfied, the person will be seen as a stepparent to the child, which gives them rights and obligations as a parent. If the marriage were to breakdown, a stepparent has the right to apply for decision-making responsibility (formerly referred to as custody) and parenting time (formerly referred to as access) (CLRA, section 21(1)). However, the stepparent also has an obligation to pay child support for any child in which they stand in the place of a parent (Divorce Act, section 15.1(1)). 


Common Law Marriages and Children

          When it comes to children of common law marriages, the Family Law Act is the guiding statute. A child is defined by the Family Law Act as “a person to whom a parent has demonstrated a settled intention to treat at a child [of their] family” (FLA, s 1(1)). The same test from Chartier, as outlined above, is used to determine if a person stood in the place of a parent to the child in question. Again, if the court finds the person satisfied the listed criteria, this gives rise to rights and obligations as a parent, including decision-making responsibility, parenting time, and child support upon breakdown of the relationship.


If you have further questions or inquiries, please contact 519-578-4150 for more information.



Chartier v Chartier, [1999] 1 SCR 242. <1999 CanLII 707 (SCC) | Chartier v. Chartier | CanLII>.


Children’s Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c C-12. <https://canlii.ca/t/5563b>.


Child, Youth and Family Services Act, SO 2017, c C-14, Sch 1. <https://canlii.ca/t/5569j>.


Divorce Act, RSC 1985, c C-3. <https://canlii.ca/t/551f9>.


Family Law Act <https://canlii.ca/t/55cvm>.


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Welcome, Emily Metcalfe!


Giffen Lawyers LLP welcomes Emily Metcalfe as an associate lawyer in our Family Law department.  Raised in Waterloo Region, Emily received here undergraduate degree from the University of Regina, before graduating from Queen's University with her Juris Doctor in 2018.   Great to have you with us, Emily!

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Spouses involved in family law disputes should beware: online social media posts can be used as evidence in court.  Read the AdvocatesDaily interview with Giffen LLP Lawyers partner and family law lawyer, Lorrie Stojni, here.

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Grandparents are asserting their rights to see their grandchildren more frequently in often-difficult family circumstances, says Kitchener family lawyer and Giffen LLP Lawyers partner Lorrie Stojni.


Read Lorrie's interview with on AdvocateDaily.com here.

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