Child Custody and Access - Galbraith Family Law

The Best Interests of the Child Determine Custody Issues

For any couple going through a divorce, their children are most often the primary concern. In some cases, parents may reach an agreement among themselves when it comes to matters of child custody, but even in the best scenarios, it is always important to have these agreements memorialized in a legally binding separation agreement. When children are involved, courts in Canada look at divorce cases through one prism: what is in the child’s best interests.

How Are a Child’s “Best Interests” Determined?

In cases where custody issues are contested, it falls to the courts to make the final judgment on custody, visitation, and access. Such decisions are not made lightly, and Canadian divorce law sets out a number of factors that a judge must take into consideration when making his ruling and determining what is in the best interests of the child. These include:

– Parent-child relationship and bonding
– Parenting abilities of both parties
– Each parents’ mental, physical, and emotional state
– Parents’ schedules
– Available support systems for each parent (grandparents and other relatives)
– Sibling issues (courts are reluctant to separate siblings, although this is done on occasion)
– The child’s wishes (generally, children over the age of 12 may decide which parent they wish to live with)
– Parents’ past behaviors or criminal backgrounds

Different Types of Custody

There are four types of custody that may be awarded or agreed upon:

  • Shared Custody - parents share time with the children equally (such as on a weekly basis or some other equal schedule), and the parents will need to agree on any major decisions affecting the children (for example, decisions about a child’s education, health care, religious upbringing, and in some cases, extra-curricular activities).
  • Joint Custody - parents must still agree on major life decisions regarding the children, but the children will live primarily with just one parent with the other parent having access or visitation rights.
  • Sole Custody – only one parent has both physical custody and primary responsibility for caretaking and decisions concerning the child. In these situations, a custodial parent will still need to facilitate a continued relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • Split Custody - In rare cases, a court may consider split custody, during which some of the children live with one parent most of the time, while the other children live with the other parent most of the time.

Child Access Arrangements

Child access in Ontario refers to the right of a parent who does not have custody and with whom a child does not primarily live to spend time with the child. It literally means that the parent has access to the child. It can also mean that the parent has access to school, health and other information about the child.

“Reasonable access” is a situation in which the parents are able to co-operate with each other; it allows the parents to come to informal arrangements about access to the child as long as those arrangements are reasonable.

In other situations, a court might award one parent access to the child at specific times. The court order will usually cover holidays, weekends, times during the week and any special occasions. This type of access is referred to as fixed access in Ontario. Parents are generally still free to agree to different arrangements for access informally as long as the amount of time the parent who has a legal right to the access with the child remains the same or greater.

In extreme situations, a parent might be granted supervised access to the child, meaning that a third-party must be present whenever the parent visits with the child. Supervised access is used when the parent cannot be trusted with the child due to drugs and alcohol or past abuse of the child.

What is Best for You?

Matters relating to child custody and access are not only charged with emotion, they can involve complicated legal issues and a range of decisions and arrangements. It is impossible to know which options are best for you and your children without having full knowledge of those options and the right legal assistance to ensure that your rights and the rights of your children are protected.

Galbraith Family Law: Resolving Family Conflict With Heart

The Barrie law firm of Galbraith Family Law is committed to providing superior legal services for every client. The firm helps clients resolve issues related to separation and divorce, including custody, access, child support, spousal support, equalization and division of property. They are experienced in many types of approaches to family law matters, from collaborative practice to litigation. Brian Galbraith brings more than 20 years of legal experience to his cases, and has earned a reputation in the Ontario legal community as a lawyer of honesty, integrity, and passion—qualities his clients need and appreciate. He understands first-hand the uncertainty and upheaval a divorce can cause, and is committed to providing his clients with sound legal advice during difficult times in their lives. Brian Galbraith’s office is located at 124 Dunlop St. West, Barrie, Ontario L4N 1B1 or he can be reached by calling (705) 999-8957.