Planning for the care of children is a primary objective of most parents choosing to end their spousal relationship. Negotiating an acceptable arrangement regarding parenting time, time with a child and authority over key decisions in a child’s life is of utmost concern to many parents when they seek a lawyer. The child custody lawyers at Mann Lawyers help Ottawa parents to understand their options and responsibilities, and represent their clients in achieving an arrangement that meets their interests and their child’s.
Understanding Custody and Access
Custody and access is often a confusing and emotionally stressful aspect of divorce or separation. As a starting point, the terminology requires definition. Custody does not refer to where a child resides; rather, it describes who has decision-making authority with regard to the child. Custody means a parent has the legal right to make major decisions for and regarding their child. These decisions include those about education, non-emergency medical care, religion, and recreational activities.
Most commonly, one of or both of a child’s parent will ask to have custody. However, in certain cases, another person could ask for, and get, custody. This could include a step-parent, a grandparent, a relative, or another person with a connection to the child. Grandparents, specifically, have recently been recognized in the Ontario legislation as being parties that can apply for custody of a child. Several other provinces and territories have given similar legislative recognition to grandparents.
There are different kinds of custody arrangements which determine who gets to make these decisions. The most common types are sole custody and joint custody.
The term “joint custody” does not refer to equal time spent at each parent’s house. It refers to joint decision-making. It is also possible for one parent to have sole custody — which means sole decision-making authority — while the child splits his or her time between each parent’s house. Custody and access arrangements, therefore, are flexible and can vary widely from family to family.
In recent years, many professionals in the field, including lawyers and judges, are moving away from the traditional labels of custody and access and using terms such as “decision making” and “children’s residency schedule” or “parenting time.”
Sometimes parents can agree to which custody arrangement will work best for them. In this case, it’s important to get a written agreement which outlines custody as well as other aspects of parenting, like access. If parents cannot agree, the child’s best interests will need to be considered. This means that, the decision that’s made has to be child-focused and considerate of what is best for the child. Parents can try negotiations with lawyers, mediation or another collaborative process, or court to come to this decision.
It’s important to also recognize that custody arrangements can change. A child’s needs change over time and these kinds of changes may mean that the existing arrangement might need to be reassessed and revised. Again, this is something that the parents will have to work through, while keeping the child’s interests at the forefront of their minds.
The Role of the Courts
Parents can negotiate a custody and access arrangement in a separation agreement, which is part of the divorce and separation process for many couples. The primary focus of the court in any arrangement will be the best interests of the children. In general, courts favour keeping siblings together in the same home and maximizing the amount of time children spend with each parent.
To determine what is in the child best interests, a number of things would be looked at, such as:
- The relationship between the person and the child;
- The emotional ties between the child and the person claiming access;
- The child’s views and preferences, if they can be reasonably determined;
- The length of time the child lived in the stable home environment;
- The person’s ability to provide the necessaries of life for the child;
- What the person proposes as a plan for caring for the child;
- The permanence and stability of the family where the child will live with the person;
- The person’s ability to act as a parent for the child; and
- Any familial relationship between the child and the person.
The person applying for custody will have to show evidence relating to the factors listed above and show why the custody arrangement being asked for is in the child’s best interests.
Advice regarding Children’s Residency Schedules (“Access”) in Ontario
Practical and effective legal advice is important for any parent experiencing relationship breakdown. Mann Lawyers offers a substantial history of successful representation to Ottawa citizens. We are committed to helping our clients solve their immediate legal concerns while offering them sound advice with regard to their family’s future.