Families and Couples

Parental Authority: Rights and Responsibilities of Parents


Parental authority refers to parents’ rights and responsibilities toward their children from the minute they are born until they turn 18. Under their parental authority, parents make decisions that affect their children’s well-being.

What is parental authority, and what happens if the parents break up?

Parental Authority: Rights and Responsibilities

Under parental authority, parents have these rights and responsibilities toward their children:

  • custody
  • supervision
  • physical and psychological protection
  • health and safety
  • education
  • providing food
  • caring for them

Parental authority gives parents the right to make all decisions necessary to their children’s well-being. For example, parents can make these decisions:

Parents can also temporarily give to someone else certain parts of their parental authority, such as custody, supervision or education. For example, this happens when a babysitter looks after the children.

Who makes decisions about the children after the parents break up?

While they are living together, parents use their parental authority together, whether or not they are married.

If the parents don’t live together anymore and only one of them has custody of the children, the other parent still keeps parental authority.

  • The parent who does not have custody only loses the right to custody. The parent who has custody decides where the children will live.
  • The parent who does not have custody still has all the other rights and responsibilities of parental authority (e.g., education, providing food, decisions about health care).

Being with the children means the parent who has custody exercises parental authority every day, while the other parent does this from a distance. But the parent who does not have custody must be consulted on all major decisions concerning the children.

What is a major decision? Here are a few examples:

  • choice of school
  • health care necessary for a child’s state of health
  • some medical treatments, such as braces
  • long-term activities and hobbies

A general rule, the parent who does not have custody of the children also has these rights:

  • see report cards
  • go to parent-teacher meetings
  • receive information about the children’s medical care

Divorce: Vocabulary Change in the Law

Since March 1, 2021, the Divorce Act no longer uses the terms “custody” or “access”. The law now uses the term “parenting time” to describe a divorced parent’s relationship with a child of the marriage. For more information, see our article Divorce: What Is “Parenting Time” and What to Do When Moving.

When Parents Don’t Agree on Decisions About the Children

If parents don’t agree on a major decision concerning the children, then one parent can go to court to have a judge decide, no matter who has custody.

Here a few situations where a parent can ask for a judge’s opinion:

  • The parents don’t agree on a decision they have to take regarding the children.
  • One parent is making all the decisions about the children without consulting the other parent.
  • One parent refuses to give the other parent important information about the children.

The judge will make a decision based on the children’s best interests.

Important! A parent who wishes to make a medical decision for their child despite the other parent’s refusal must usually ask for a judge’s permission. But in some cases, a parent may make a medical decision for their child without having to go to court. This is sometimes possible in situations of domestic or family violence caused by the other parent. In these situations, the parent who wishes to make a medical decision for their child without the other parent’s consent must follow a few steps. For more information, check out the Quebec government’s website (in French only).

New Partners of Parents and Decisions Concerning Children

New partners of a parent, such as boyfriends or girlfriends, do not have parental authority, even if they are acting like a parent.

Losing Parental Authority

In rare cases, a parent can lose all or part of parental authority and the right to make decisions concerning the children.

Only a judge can take away parental authority.