Parental rights under Ontario law include the authority to make important decisions about your child’s care, education, religious instruction, and welfare.
Amendments to the federal Divorce Act in 2021 changed long-used terminology regarding child custody in divorce cases. Revisions to the Divorce Act mean that “custody” is no longer used in arrangements made for children following a divorce. Instead, the terms “decision-making responsibility” and “parenting time” are used when discussing decisions about the child’s life and where they will live. Where it is in the child’s best interests, Ontario child custody laws favor giving parents shared custody or joint decision-making responsibilities.
Parenting plans accomplish the task of dividing decision-making responsibilities and parenting time. As you legally end your marriage and consider your child’s future, you must form a parenting plan that keeps the focus on their best interests.
Parenting Plan Considerations
Parents should begin planning for their children when they decide to separate. You may wonder where to start as you begin making a plan for parenting your child after a divorce. As you decide what plan will best serve your child, there are questions to consider.
Some of these preliminary questions include:
How much time will your child spend with each parent?
A parenting plan should contain a detailed parenting time schedule for each parent. “Parenting time” replaces the formerly used term physical custody. It refers to the time a child is physically with one parent and staying at their home.
The suitability of each parent’s home for the child’s presence is relevant to parenting time. For example, one parent sharing a one-bedroom apartment with four children may not serve the child’s best interests.
Also, another factor is the location and proximity of academic, extracurricular, and social activities to each co-parent’s home. If one parent lives too far away, it may not serve the child’s best interests.
How will you and your former spouse jointly make decisions that affect your children?
A parenting plan should contain complete details about any necessary co-parenting decisions that affect your children. Legal custody, now known as “decision-making responsibility,” calls for parents to make big decisions about their child’s upbringing, such as where they go to school.
Does the parenting plan succeed in allowing the child to grow up in the best environment available?
To determine this, courts apply the best interests of the child test. Unless there are unusual circumstances, courts tend to assume that it’s in the best interests of a child to spend time with both of their parents.
Does the parenting plan make the most of the child’s time with both parents?
Although secondary to the child’s overall best interests, this is a critical consideration. A parent should not be deprived of their rights to their child unless there is good cause.
Parents must consider various questions like these when forming a parenting plan. An effective parenting plan outlines the process for making critical decisions affecting your child. It also clearly details how you and your co-parent communicate and share information about your child. A parenting plan should consider and cover decisions about anything outside of their daily routine.
A parenting arrangement should sufficiently describe the decision-making responsibilities of both parents.
When creating a parenting plan, you address three primary types of decisions:
- How you and your co-parent will decide on essential matters such as your child’s health and education
- Where the child will live and how much time the child will spend with each co-parent
- How you and your co-parent will resolve any disagreements on any parenting issue
When the court determines whether a parenting plan serves the best interests of the child, it considers:
- The child’s health and well-being
- The history of each parent’s care for the child and whether it includes any history of violence
- The ability of the parent to care for the child
- The child’s need for stability
- The bond between the child and other family members and friends
Types of Parenting Plans
Once included in a court order, your parenting agreement is legally binding in Ontario. While a parenting plan must serve the child’s best interests, it must also be feasible. If both parents cannot meet their responsibilities as outlined, the plan will not serve the child’s best interests.
For a parenting plan to succeed, both parents must communicate openly and cooperate unconditionally. Parents must focus every consideration and decision on the child’s best interests. Neither parent’s personal feelings nor opinions should override the focus on the child.
Courts prefer parents to share decision-making responsibilities. Getting sole custody is difficult since the preference is for parents to split decision-making responsibility evenly.
- Sole decision-making responsibility. In this parenting plan, one parent makes all the decisions for the child. This is only used in rare cases where it serves the best interests of the child.
- Joint decision-making responsibility. In this plan, you and your co-parent collaborate and jointly make the key decisions that affect your child. This type of parenting plan requires you and your co-parent to cooperate to advance your child’s best interests. If you disagree about an important decision, the parenting plan should describe how you will resolve it and any other conflict or disagreement.
- Divided (parallel) decision-making responsibility. In this parenting agreement, you and your co-parent divide the decisions that promote the best environment for your child to thrive. One person makes one decision. Provided that your parenting plan covers every meaningful decision, no one should question who the responsible decision-maker for a specific issue is.
The parenting plan should describe decisions about school, healthcare, travel, extracurricular activities, social activities, and special needs. It should list the parent responsible for the decision. For example, you make all decisions related to the child’s academics, while your co-parent makes all decisions related to the child’s extracurricular activities.
- De facto decision-making responsibility. De facto decision-making responsibility occurs when you live separately from your spouse, but your children live with you. No agreement exists, but your spouse has accepted this arrangement.
Your parenting plan can contain provisions where you and your co-parent divide some decisions but jointly make others.
What Type of Parenting Plan Is Best?
While the best type of parenting plan must focus on the child, it should also attempt to maximize each parent’s time spent with the child. The feasibility of a parenting plan comes into play since the child is living in two households in two separate locations. A flexible parenting plan is much more likely to prove feasible for both parents.
Divorce and separation are difficult experiences for children. Avoiding their exposure to conflict is in their best interests. A parenting plan can help reduce conflict by clearly outlining parenting roles and responsibilities for each parent.
What is the Most Common Child Custody Agreement in Canada?
The starting point for Courts is to consider giving parents equal authority and responsibility. This focus often translates into a parenting plan that uses joint decision-making. An experienced family lawyer familiar with the divorce process can help you find the best parenting plan for your situation. At Musson Morneau LLP, we focus on helping our clients achieve their goals through cooperation, collaboration, and communication.
How to get full custody of a child without going to court?
Mediation allows you and your spouse to negotiate your separation agreement with parenting plan provisions without a judge. You may need to submit the final version of your agreement to a judge. A separation agreement and parenting plan are considered legally binding agreements. However a parenting plan may be amended from time to time, to ensure it continues to be in the child’s best interests.
Contact an Experienced Ontario Family Law Lawyer to Discuss Which Parenting Plan Is Best for You
At Musson Law, our goal is to reinvent how spouses divorce. We focus on a collaborative, solution-oriented approach to dissolving a relationship. Seeking independent legal advice about your parenting plan will help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities before the court finalizes your plan.
Having an experienced lawyer representing you can ensure that any parenting plan accomplishes your goals as a parent acting in your child’s best interests. It can also help ensure that the parenting plan is fair and equitable to you and the other parent.
If you have questions about parenting plans, discuss your situation with a skilled family law lawyer at Musson Law. Contact our office today to learn how we can help you through this challenging time.