The main responsibility of a parent is to provide physical, emotional and psychological care for their children. When parents are not in a committed relationship with each other or do not reside in the same home, that responsibility must be shared. The legal concepts associated with parenting our children are guardianship, decision-making responsibility and parenting time (formerly “custody” and “access”, respectively) and child support.
Guardianship is a bundle of corresponding rights and responsibilities for children. Parents who are married to each other are joint guardians of their children. Parents who have never been married to each other may be joint guardians depending on several factors that are set out in the Family Law Act. The best way to think about guardianship rights and responsibilities is to consider that for every right a child has, their parents have a corresponding responsibility. For instance: children have a right to eat and parents have a corresponding duty to feed them.
Determining decision-making responsibility and parenting time arrangements can quickly become a complex matter, particularly if the parents cannot come to a mutual agreement, or the child’s wishes conflict with that of the parents. Parenting disputes may also involve questions of mobility when one parent wishes to relocate a child to another province, or even internationally. It is important to seek advice from an experienced family law lawyer before beginning this process in order to gain a full appreciation for each parent’s rights and responsibilities with respect to decision-making responsibility and parenting time. At Mincher Koeman, our family law lawyers have helped countless clients through this process, and will always provide candid and knowledgable advice in every situation. Our lawyers will assess the situation throughout and advise on a plan that fits the circumstances and strives to save clients both time and money. If the parties are cordial and private negotiation is possible, we will step back and allow the parties to proceed in that way, providing guidance when necessary. If the matter requires a more formal approach, we will represent a client with skill through arbitration or a trial if necessary.
A child has the right to live with and be cared for by each of their parents. The parents have a responsibility to provide that care to the child and to determine how the care of the child will be shared with each other. The child may live primarily with one parent or may live with each parent in a more or less equal arrangement.
The parent with primary decision-making responsibility is responsible for making decisions about where a child will live, where they will go to school, what religion they will practice (if any), who they may associate with, what extra-curricular activities they will do, what non-emergency medical care they will receive, whether they will have counselling, etc. Those decisions may be made by one parent or by both parents together. If the decisions are made by both parents together, it is joint decision-making responsibility (previously called “joint custody”). In such situations, the parents usually share parenting time (access) as well.
If one parent makes all the decisions, they have sole decision-making responsibility (formerly “sole custody”). Sometimes, the parents divide up decision-making responsibility with, for instance, one parent deciding where the child will go to school and the other parent deciding what extra-curricular activities the child will do.
When parents cannot agree on how to divide the rights and responsibilities of guardianship they may seek guidance from a court. All decisions regarding children must be made by considering their “best interests”. Essentially, you must consider what the needs and interests of your child are and then consider how your proposed plan best meets those needs and interests.
There are two statutes we use in making agreements regarding parenting or when applying to the court for orders regarding parenting. If the parents are or were married, they may apply for court orders under the federal Divorce Act or under the provincial Family Law Act. Non-married parents must apply for orders regarding their children under the Family Law Act.
The terminology used for parenting orders is different under each statute. For instance, the Divorce Act uses the term “decision-making responsibility” to describe the right to make important decisions affecting the child’s life, including matters relating to healthcare, religion, and education. The term “parenting time” refers to the amount of time the child spends with each parent, formerly known as “access”. By contrast, Alberta’s Family Law Act uses the term “parenting” to describe when the child will be in the care of each parent. If the child has only one guardian, then the other parent’s time with the child will be referred to as “contact”.
Children are entitled to be heard on parenting issues that affect them. The court may order that your children be represented by a lawyer to ensure their voice is heard by both parents and the court. Having a voice does not mean the children have the right to choose the parenting plan. However, as children develop the capacity to understand their own needs and interests their views and preferences will be factored into decisions.
At Mincher Koeman, we practice family law exclusively. Our divorce lawyers have represented clients in all types of matters regarding decision-making ability and parenting time, ranging from amicable to high conflict. We will provide each client with a full picture of their rights and obligations with respect to the care of their child or children, and provide experienced advocacy in court if necessary. We have built our practice to ensure that each client receives first-rate client service, and will always be sure to steer clients towards the most efficient resolution of their matter, keeping costs down whenever possible. To discuss your matter with a family lawyer, contact our firm by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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