Some of the most important decisions that must be made during a separation and divorce are those relating to the care of children. When parents separate, arrangements must be made around dividing parental duties and responsibilities towards their children or, in other words, decision-making responsibility (custody) and parenting time (access).
Decision-making responsibility and parenting time can influence other logistics in a separation and divorce, including child support, spousal support, and division of property. These issues can also become one of the most contentious and emotional aspects in a split, regardless of how amenable or acrimonious the end of a relationship is.
If there are children involved in a separation or divorce, it is essential to obtain legal advice from an experienced family lawyer early in the process. NULaw’s divorce lawyer, Lex Arbesman, regularly helps parents understand their rights so they can make informed, rational decisions. We take pride in our reputation for focused, personalized client services and provide pragmatic and honest advice with the goal of reaching a timely and cost-effective resolution.
At NULaw, we have specific experience assisting clients with high net worth divorces, and child support where income exceeds $100,000.
Contrary to what many believe, decision-making responsibility (formerly known as “custody”) does not refer solely to where a child lives following the end of his/her parents’ relationship. Rather, it refers to a parent’s legal responsibility to make decisions about a child’s care (including where they live but also regarding their health, education, and religion among other things) and the parent’s general obligations towards that child.
In a sole decision-making responsibility arrangement, one person has the legal authority to make major decisions about a child’s care and well-being, as well as decisions about where that child will live. Usually, the child will reside primarily with the parent that has sole decision-making responsibility.
Sole decision-making is generally granted to one parent only where there is an insurmountable conflict between the parents and/or concerns about drugs, alcohol, abuse, violence, mental illness, or poor judgment. A grant of sole decision-making responsibility is intended to limit risks to the child.
In a joint decision-making responsibility arrangement, both parents have equal legal capacity regarding major decisions about their child. Decisions are either made by consensus or are deferred to the other parent. In such an arrangement, where the child lives and how often each parent can spend time with the child will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the family.
Joint decision-making works best where there is little conflict between separated parents, where they agree about major issues in their child’s life, and where they have little concern for the judgment or decision-making of the other parent.
Whereas decision-making responsibility refers to a parent’s legal right to make decisions relating to their child, parenting time (formerly known as “access”) refers to time spent with the child.
If one parent is awarded decision-making responsibility for a child, the other parent is generally granted a right of parenting time (also known as visitation rights). Depending on the circumstances, parenting time is either supervised or unsupervised.
In many separations, decision-making and parenting time arrangements are made between the parents with the help of family lawyers and/or mediators. In situations where parents are unable to agree on these matters, the court can decide which parent has decision-making responsibility as well as the terms of decision-making responsibility and parenting time. The golden rule of family law is “a child’s best interests”, and courts will always consider this when determining the division of decision-making responsibility or parenting time.
If you are contemplating a separation, or are already in the process, and there are children involved, your first step should be to consult with a family lawyer who has experience with decision-making responsibility and parenting time matters. NULaw and its predecessors have been helping clients in Toronto since 1953. We provide clear, practical advice so that clients can make informed decisions about their parental rights. Contact us online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.