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 family law lawyers and mediators 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 Parenting Time and Decision-Making Authority
These parenting terms can often be confusing and emotionally stressful aspects of divorce or separation. As a starting point, the terminology requires definition. As of March 1, 2021, the term “custody” was amended to “decision-making responsibility.” This does not refer to where a child resides; rather, it describes who has decision-making authority with regard to the child. This 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 decision-making responsibility. However, in certain cases, another person could ask for, and get, decision-making responsibility. This could include a step-parent, a grandparent, a relative, or another person with a connection to the child and who stands in the place of a parent. Grandparents, specifically, have recently been recognized in the Ontario legislation as being parties that can apply for decision-making responsibility of a child. Grandparents may also ask for a contact order with respect to a child. Several other provinces and territories have given similar legislative recognition to grandparents.
The term “access” was amended to “parenting time.” Decision-making responsibility is the right to make major decisions regarding a child. Parenting time refers to the time that each parent spends with the child.
There are different kinds of parenting time arrangements which determine a child’s residence. The most common types are shared parenting time arrangements and primary/secondary parenting time arrangement.
The term joint decision-making responsibility 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 decision-making responsibility — which means sole decision-making authority — while the child splits his or her time between each parent’s house. Decision-making responsibility and parenting time arrangements, therefore, are flexible and can vary widely from family to family.
If parents can agree on which decision-making responsibility and parenting time arrangement will work best for them, the next step is to prepare a written agreement which outlines the parenting terms. Parents have the responsibility to ensure that decisions made are in their children’s best interests. The child’s best interests will remain the primary focus when deciding decision-making responsibilities and parenting time arrangements.
Parents can attempt to resolve the parenting terms in dispute by negotiation, mediation and collaborative law. If out-of-court resolution is not possible, the dispute can be dealt with in Court.
It’s important to also recognize that parenting 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 decision-making responsibility and parenting time arrangements 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’s best interests, a number of things would be looked at, such as:
- the child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being;
- the child’s need for stability;
- the nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each parent, each of the child’s siblings and grandparents and any other person who plays an important role in the child’s life;
- each parent’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other parent;
- the child’s views and preferences, giving due weight to the child’s age and maturity;
- the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including Indigenous upbringing and heritage;
- any plans for the child’s care;
- the ability and willingness of each parent to care for and meet the needs of the child; and
- any family violence and its impact on the ability and willingness of any person who engaged in the family violence to care for and meet the needs of the child.
The person applying for decision-making responsibility and parenting time will have to show evidence relating to the factors listed above and show why the arrangement being asked for is in the child’s best interests.
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.