Articles » Navigating Parentage Law in Ontario: Understanding the All Families are Equal Act


Societal perceptions and understandings of the family unit have evolved drastically over the past decades. As such, both social and legal understandings of the “family” have developed to become inclusive of diverse family arrangements fostering equality and inclusion.

In Ontario family law, the Children’s Law Reform Act (“CLRA”) governs who is to be considered a parent of a child.[1] The Vital Statistics Act (“VSA”) governs the registration of parentage which confirms the legal status of a parent.[2]

In January 2017, Ontario underwent a significant transformation in family law with the introduction of the All Families are Equal Act (“AFAEA”) which reformed the CLRA and VSA.[3] This landmark legislation redefined the concept of “parentage” by acknowledging that being a parent extends beyond biology and includes pre-conception intention to become a parent. The law reform implemented by the AFAEA is particularly important in the context of LGBTQIA2S+ relationships and assisted reproduction.

As a result, Ontario’s family law regime no longer defines a child’s “parents” based solely on biology and genetic relations. Rather, the legal definition of “parent” now recognizes the various ways in which one could become a parent, from traditional conception and adoption to assisted reproduction and surrogacy. As such, Ontario family law aims to treat all types of parents as equal, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or the ways in which the child was conceived.

The revised CLRA sets out the many ways in which a person may become, or not become, the parent of a child, without requiring court intervention. These include:

  1. The person who gives birth to a child is presumed a parent, unless acting as a surrogate. This parent is referred to as the “birth parent.”
  2. The person whose sperm led to the conception of a child through sexual intercourse, is presumed a parent, except if, before the child was conceived, the person and the intended birth parent, agreed in writing, that the person whose sperm will lead to conception of the child, does not intend to be a parent of the child.
  3. A person contributing “reproductive material” (an embryo, any part of sperm, ovum or other human cell or gene) for assisted reproduction of a child, is presumed not to be a parent, unless they are a parent for other reasons under the Act.
  4. The “spouse”, meaning someone married to or in a conjugal relationship with the birth parent, at the time of a child’s conception, by way of assisted reproduction or insemination, is presumed to be a parent.
  5. Parties who make clear their intention to be the parents of a child, by way of a valid written “pre-conception parentage agreement” or “surrogacy agreement”, are presumed to be parents, unless there are more than four prospective parents under the agreement. A child is no longer assumed to have no more than two parents and may have up to four parents, without a court order.
  6. There is a presumption, where the child was conceived through sexual intercourse, that the following people are parents: the birth parent’s spouse at the time of the child’s birth, a person who was married to and/or was living with the child’s birth parent and that marriage and/or cohabitation ended within 300 days before the child’s birth, the person who certified the child’s birth under the VSA, and, a person who was found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be a parent of the child.

The progressive legal scheme implemented by the All Families are Equal Act has advanced notions of parenting by rightly providing diverse and non-traditional families with equal parenting rights. As a result, individuals who were not directly involved in the conception of a child, are now able to become parents through administrative processes and legislative presumptions rather than having to go through the lengthy, and often expensive, court processes.

[1] Children’s Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990.
[2] Vital Statistics Act, R.S.O. 1990.
[3] All Families Are Equal Act (Parentage and Related Registrations Statute Law Amendment), 2016, S.O. 2016, c. 23 – Bill 28.

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