If the relationship between you and your former partner comes to an end and you share children from that relationship, one of the most significant considerations in that separation is custody arrangements. You will need to come to an agreement regarding the shared financial responsibilities, who gets parenting time when, as well as arrangements concerning physical contact with each parent’s respective families.
It is important that you are aware that, in all circumstances, the consideration does not concern your best interests as parents but rather those of your child/children. You may understand the effects of ending your relationship, but you cannot always expect children to. Your fundamental objective should be to shield your child/children from the dispute that you and your former partner may engage in, and rather focus on what is best for them now as well as in the future.
Terms in Parenting Arrangements and BC Family Law
Before proceeding with the discussion on parenting after separation, here are some of the legal terms that will come up when deciding on your new parenting regime. There has been increasing support for making use of words that are more sensitive in their description of a parent’s role, post separation.
The Family Act in British Columbia has introduced the concept of making use of phrases such as “parenting responsibilities,” “parenting time” and “contact” as opposed to speaking about “access” and “custody”. By differentiating between the parent who has custody and the parent who only has specified access, it may prompt a stigma that highlights the notion of winners and losers in custody battles.
The problem with this way of thinking is that people may associate a parent without full custody as the “lesser parent”, or the parent that takes on less parental responsibilities.
As a result, it is recommended that you make use of the new language contained in the Family Law Act, so that there is no stigma that demeans each parent’s role in their child/children’s lives, and rather focuses on what the best outcome will be for every party involved. Hence, in BC we now use the term “guardianship” rather than custody.
As previously mentioned, you and your former partner or the court will need to create a plan, known as the parenting arrangement, which will determine how you will look after your child/children after you separate and/or divorce.
No two cases are the same due to the personal and emotionally laden nature of custody disputes, and as a result there is no particular parenting arrangement template that can be applied to all cases.
More often than not, it is in your child/children’s best interests for you and your spouse to come to an agreement that will allow them to have both their parents present and involved in their lives. By acknowledging this as the end goal, being able to discuss as co-parents and come to an agreement or compromise is usually the best outcome for all involved.
If you are unable to come to an agreement together and alternative dispute resolutions have not worked, then you must approach the court where a judge can make the decision for you. This decision will be based solely on the child/children’s best interests.
In making his or her decision, the judge will establish each parent’s ability to comprehend the needs of their child/children and their ability to act in accordance with those needs. The court will, similarly, assess the parents’ joint ability to effectively liaise and correspond on issues that affect the child/children.
Types of Custody
Although the Family Act in British Columbia no longer refers to ‘custody’ and ‘access’, the federal Divorce Act still does. For the purpose of explaining the varying custody options, this article will refer to these options in terms of the Divorce Act. Note however, the amended legislation will come into place in 2021, after which the terms ‘decision-making’, ‘parenting time’ and ‘contact’ will be used.
- Sole custody: if you have sole custody of your child/children you are responsible for making decisions on their behalf and they primarily reside with you. Your former partner usually then has visitation/access rights in terms of an agreed-upon schedule. This will be referred to as “decision-making and parenting time” in the new legislation.
- Joint custody: if you and your former partner have joint custody, this means that you share the right to make decisions on behalf of your child/children. Under this custody arrangement, it is not necessary that the child/children reside equally between the parents, and a visiting schedule is still likely to be in place.
- Shared custody: this means that you and your former partner spend at least 40% of the time with your child/children. This will be referred to as “parenting time” in the new legislation.
Whichever route you and your former partner decide to follow (or whichever order the court makes), it will be useful to have a schedule in place which indicates where your child/children will be, and when and whom is responsible for making which decisions.
This way you create a stable environment in which your child/children know that, for example, he or she will be spending every second weekend with one parent and the rest of the time with the other parent. This usually promotes assurance, stability, and security for children.
This article was intended to demonstrate the parenting agreement options available to you whilst you navigate through a separation or divorce. However, you may find it helpful to consult with a lawyer to ensure that you are fully aware of all your rights and responsibilities. A family law lawyer is well equipped to help guide you with establishing a fair and just parenting schedule. Contact us today to speak to an experienced family law lawyer.
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