One of the most difficult components of divorce is determining child custody arrangements. Under Alberta’s Family Law Act, there are several different types of parenting arrangements available to help divorced or separated parents make decisions about how parents will share time and have access to their children. This is called a parenting plan which can be created using the tools here. But, before you get started figuring out which forms to fill out, you should figure out what type of custody arrangement will work best for parents and children.
Traditionally, Alberta child custody arrangements were classified as:
- Joint custody where both parents make decisions about the children together. This does not necessarily mean they spend an equal amount of time with the children.
- Shared custody where parents split time with the children equally. Parents with shared custody usually have joint custody arrangements too.
- Split custody where some children live mostly with one parent and other children live mostly with the other parent. Most parents with split custody also have joint custody.
- Sole custody where the children live primarily with one parent who has a right to make all major decisions regarding the child. In sole custody, the non-custodial parent may have access to the child and make decisions when they have access to the child, but the custodial parent makes final decisions.
Recent changes to national and provincial divorce laws have changed the language used to describe Alberta child custody arrangements.
What does it really mean to have custody of the kids?
The laws in Alberta now refer to parenting orders rather than custody arrangements. These parenting orders differ from the traditional custody arrangements because they apply even when no divorce actions have been officially started. By law, when reviewing the parenting plan, the court must consider the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of the children.
The best interests of a child legally include consideration of the following:
- The child’s needs considering age and development
- The child’s relationship with each spouse, siblings, grandparents, and other people who play an important role in the child’s life
- The willingness of each spouse to support the child’s relationship with the other spouse
- The history of how each spouse has cared for the child
- The child’s preferences, taking age and maturity into account
- The child’s cultural, linguistic, religious, and spiritual upbringing and heritage
- Plans for the child’s care
- The ability of each person to care for and meet the needs of the child
- The ability of each person to communicate and cooperate with each other
- Any family violence
- Any civil or criminal proceeding, order, condition or measure relevant to the safety, security and well-being of the child.
In addition to the well-being of each child, the parenting plan or parenting agreement considers:
- Parenting time. Time a child spends with each spouse/partner.
- Decision-making responsibilities. Describes who will make important decisions about the children and how those decisions will be made.
- Contact. Describes who will be allowed to spend time with the children besides the parents, for example, grandparents.
- Schedule and living arrangements. The parenting plan should also describe the living arrangements and schedule for the children.
What is parenting time?
Parenting time is the time when each parent has primary responsibility for the child. This includes when the child is in school or daycare. During their scheduled parenting time, each spouse has the sole authority to make decisions affecting their child. In addition, each spouse has the right to inquire about the health, education and welfare of the child. Parenting time schedules can be fixed with specific days and times or open with flexible schedules determined by each parent depending on the needs of the family.
In some cases, the parenting agreement may call for supervised parenting time where the child is under the supervision of another person such as a social worker or another relative. Supervised parenting time is only used when there is a concern about the well-being of the child. When supervised parenting time is ordered, it’s usually temporary until the parent demonstrates that their visits are beneficial and they can safely progress to longer lengths of time. Orders of no parenting time occur in extreme cases involving child abuse and/or neglect where the child’s safety cannot be protected in a supervised parenting setting.
What are the different types of decision-making responsibility?
Parenting plans must also determine the decision-making responsibility in cases where parents are divorcing or separating. This applies to both married and unmarried parents whether or not they cohabitated.
Rather than framing the decision-making in terms of “custody arrangements,” the new Divorce Law looks at different types of decision-making responsibility arrangements:
- Sole decision-making responsibility means that one parent has the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. The non-decision-making parent can express an opinion and has a right to be informed of major decisions, but the parent with the decision-making responsibility has the final say.
- Joint decision-making responsibility requires both parents to share equally in the decision-making responsibilities. This requires effective communication and cooperation between the parents.
- Split decision-making responsibility means that parents have split responsibility for making decisions about more than one child. As an example, this may happen when one child lives with one parent and another child lives with the other parent.
Decision-making arrangements can be tailored to the family’s specific circumstances; they do not have to fit neatly within one of these models.
Can parenting agreements be changed?
Parenting agreements can be changed. In Alberta, a parenting agreement doesn’t have to be changed in court. If you want to change the agreement, you can talk to the other parent to try and negotiate a new agreement or use family mediation if negotiations are difficult. Instructions for changing a parenting agreement in Alberta can be found here.
Get knowledgeable, compassionate help from an Alberta lawyer to help you with defining your custody arrangements
Determining what will happen to your children after you and your spouse separate can be a difficult and emotional journey. It’s good to have an experienced Alberta child custody lawyer help you through the steps and forms required to develop a parenting plan that turns into a parenting agreement that works for the best interests of the children and the parents. Contact Chadi & Company for a free consultation with our Edmonton lawyers or call us at (780) 429-2300.