Child custody disputes can be among the most complex legal matters. Both sides are heavily invested in the outcome, and the court must consider the welfare and best interests of the child or children involved above all else.
Most child custody disputes occur when a couple splits up and cannot work out a custody agreement on their own. However, some cases do involve parents who were never married or in a serious relationship with one another.
In Alberta, the family court usually strives to ensure that both parents are involved in the child’s life. The exception to this is any situation where a parent is considered unfit. The court takes these matters seriously and places the child’s best interests first regardless of either parent’s wishes.
If you are considering separating from or divorcing your partner and there are children involved, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Alberta, child custody lawyer. In the meantime, read on to learn more about what happens during a child custody dispute.
Why do child custody disputes happen?
Child custody disputes occur when two parents are unable to agree on parenting time or are unable to effectively co-parent without legal intervention. This can happen when a couple decides to end their marriage or relationship, but each parent wants full custody of the child or children. Even if both parents are not seeking full custody, a dispute may occur if one parent wants more physical time with the child or children. Each parent wants as much time as possible with their child, and neither parent wants to miss out on the child’s milestone moments. From birthdays and holidays to everyday things like putting the child to bed or having dinner together, when a couple splits up, one parent or the other will miss out on some of these moments.
How is child custody determined?
The Alberta family court considers several factors in determining child custody. First and foremost is the child’s residency. If the child is not an established resident of Alberta, then the custody agreement must be determined by the court in the area where the child is a resident. The court also looks at which parent is the child’s primary caregiver. If the child has been living with or primarily cared for by one parent, the court will consider this. So, if a couple separates and one retains custody of the child or children, that parent may be more likely to be granted physical custody of the children, as the court prefers to maintain a child’s stable home life.
In determining child custody, the court also includes legal factors such as:
- The Divorce Act, the Family Law Act, and the Children’s Law Reform Act
- The results of any court-ordered assessments
- The decisions made in prior court cases
Ultimately, the court will base their decision regarding child custody on what is in the best interest of the child. Typically, the court considers it to be in a child’s best interest to have as much time as possible with both parents.
What are the different types of child custody?
If you are involved in a custody dispute or considering splitting up with your partner, it is important to understand the different types of child custody. They include:
Joint custody – This is the most commonly awarded type of child custody, whether the parents are divorcing or have never lived together. With joint custody, both parents share physical and legal custody of the child and are therefore equally responsible for the child’s needs. This includes providing safe and stable housing, caring for the child’s physical and emotional needs, and making decisions for the child regarding all aspects of their life, such as the child’s education, medical matters, and religious affiliation.
In joint custody, parents must agree to a parenting plan and a schedule that allows the child to spend time with each parent. The schedule, which is often referred to as access or a visitation schedule, typically specifies which days of the week the child will spend with each parent and assigns parenting time for holidays. While the family court prefers to award joint custody as it is usually in the child’s best interest, it may not be the best option if the parents are unable to get along and co-parent.
Full custody – Also referred to as sole custody, full custody is when one parent is awarded physical and legal custody of a child. In Alberta, the family court typically prefers to award joint physical and legal custody. A parent seeking full custody must prove that the other parent is unfit and incapable of providing adequate care for the child. This is not easy, but it can be done when the other parent has a history of one or more of the following:
- Domestic violence or abuse
- Substance abuse, such as alcohol or drug addiction
- Neglect or abandonment
- Mental illness
Even if full custody is awarded to one parent, the other parent will likely still receive visitation rights. Depending on the circumstances, the court may require that those visits are supervised. If you are concerned about your child’s safety and wellbeing while they are in the care of their other parent, it is important that you make the court aware of this.
Physical custody – The parent that a child primarily lives with and spends the majority of their time with is considered to have physical custody. Even when parents are awarded joint custody, one may be considered the primary parent and granted physical custody. This may happen if the child is a baby and still nursing, for instance. In that situation, the nursing mother may be granted physical custody, and the child will primarily live with her while also enjoying visitation time with the other parent. This may mean spending weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other. Physical custody may also be awarded to one parent if the other parent does not live in the same geographic area. In that situation, it may be difficult to divide the child’s time equally between both parents, and one will serve as the primary parent.
Legal custody – Decisions about a child’s education, health, or religion must be made jointly unless one parent is awarded sole legal custody of the child. A parent who is granted full legal custody of their child may make these decisions on their own without consulting the child’s other parent.
How can a child custody lawyer help you?
A child custody lawyer understands the nuances of the law and legal precedents. In addition to ensuring that all legal paperwork is completed properly and filed on time, they can help build a case for you to secure the child custody agreement that is in your child’s best interest. Even if you and your child’s other parent are largely in agreement regarding child custody, it is important to have an experienced child custody lawyer on your side should any complications arise. Child custody disputes can be emotional, and even the (previously) most rational, agreeable parents may find themselves battling for more time with their child. A skilled child custody lawyer can help ensure you receive your fair share of parenting time with your child.
Contact a skilled Alberta child custody lawyer.
If you are involved in a child custody dispute or seeking to modify an existing custody agreement – or if you are considering divorce or separation from your child’s other parent – it is important that you speak with an Alberta, child custody lawyer like those at Chadi & Company. With more than 190 combined years of experience, we have represented clients throughout the Alberta and Edmonton areas for more than three decades and are prepared to help you navigate your child custody case. We understand that every situation is unique, so we use our extensive knowledge of child custody law and the family court system to create a legal strategy that meets your specific needs and keeps your child’s best interest in mind. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Complete our contact form or call us at (780) 429-2300.