How long does a biological father have to contact a child before losing all rights?

In Ontario, we do not talk about “parental rights”, but rather parental responsibilities. Parents do not have rights over their kids. Our custody and access laws are child-centred. Judges make the Order for children that is in each child’s best interest. In figuring out what order is in a child’s best interest, judges have to consider specific things. The question is not when the biological father loses his “rights” but rather when it is no longer in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with his father. The same applies to mothers who disappear or otherwise lose contact with their children.

The social science research shows that children do benefit from having some sort of interaction with both parents, even when one parent is not a good parent. Knowing who a parent is plays an important role in helping a child develop his or her sense of identity, even if the child develops that identity as being “not like my father (or mother)” because the child does not like who that person is as a person or a parent. It is also important for a child to form that opinion based on personal experiences rather than what the other parent has told the child. If at some point what the child heard about a “rejected parent” turns out to be different from what the child later understands to be the reality, that can be very harmful to the child from a psychological perspective. 

That said, there can be a lot of damage from a parent popping in and out of a child’s life, randomly, and without explanation. The child can experience repeated periods of loss/grieving, shattered expectations and possibly feelings of rejection that can lead to long-term problems. There are also times when seeing a parent is just not safe. In those cases, a judge may make an order that there not be any access until the situation improves. Still, as explained on this page, judges will fully explore the child’s situation and see if any way can be found to make access work for the child (whether access is convenient for the parents is of less concern).

Also, a child deciding not to visit a parent he or she has not seen for a long time may not be something that the court will support. Children do always understand why it is important to maintain relationships, or at least communication, with both parents. See this page on how courts respond to children saying they do not want to see a parent. Judges do not just to what kids say – although they should listen to kids.

If there is a court order for access, then you should not just cut off access on your own because of what the access parent is doing or not doing. That can get you into trouble. Read this page to find out more about what a parent should do if he or she thinks a parenting order is no longer in the child’s best interest.

Parenting and child custody cases can be very difficult. Judges view them as very important and carefully scrutinize both parents. To make sure you do not end up in a bad situation, or in trouble at court, you should speak to a family lawyer. You can contact Certified Specialist in Family Law, John Schuman, who has many years of experience with custody/access cases, using the form below or calling the phone number at the top of the page. You may also want to pick up a copy of this easy-to-understand best-selling book on family law, which gives more information on child custody, child access, and parenting problems and gives lots of tips to stay out of trouble.

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John Schuman Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law book cover

You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of parenting cases (parenting time and decision making), child support, spousal support, property division, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But to understand how the law works precisely in your situation, it is always best to speak to a good Family Law Lawyer.

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