Children can be the fallout from a divorce or split between parents. In the Children’s Law Reform Act, the Family Law Act, and other Ontario laws, there are some guidelines that will make the transition easier.
Custody can be joint or sole. Custody includes residency of the child, as well as, the right to make decisions about the aspects of the child’s upbringing including health care, education, religion, activities of interest, etc.
Access is the right of a parent to spend time with the child.
A parenting plan is a written strategy about how the child will be raised. The plan can be informal and flexible between parents, or it could be an agreement that is filed with the Court as part of the separation or divorce. When parents first decide to separate, it is recommended that a temporary plan be established and then refined if necessary to a final written agreement. It should include:
- Financial support;
- A custody and access schedule that outlines who makes the decisions and how each parent will spend time with the child; and
- How other responsibilities will be divided and shared.
There are different ways to develop this parenting arrangement:
- Family Law lawyers can negotiate and work out the details of negotiation and drafting of the parenting agreements.
- Mediation is when parties use a licensed mediator who acts as a facilitator and does not make any decisions for the parties, they merely guide the discussions to a mutually agreeable conclusion.
- Arbitration is when the parties meet with a neutral third party who will listen to both sides and then make a decision. The arbitration agreement will be filed with the court and will be binding on the parents. Having said this, arbitration can be binding or non-binding.
- It can also be hashed out in the courtroom. In that case, the judge will make the final decision and it will become official in a court order.
It is probably a good idea to follow a checklist to be sure nothing is overlooked. Here are some ideas:
- Living arrangements including geography, movement between homes, childcare, schedule changes, child’s personal belongings, child’s social life.
- Vacations, holidays, travel, and special events;
- Health care including emergencies, medical insurance responsibilities, particular requirements like speech therapy, etc.;
- If the child has special needs, there are unique decisions like therapies, diet, costs, reports, advocacy for the child’s rights;
- Grandparents, extended family, friends;
There are also some issues that may be better handled as they occur like:
- Involvement of new partners and family;
- Social media, telephone, computer, lifestyle (tattoos, allowance, driving);
- Discipline and homework.
The parenting plan should reflect the needs and interests of the child and yet have enough flexibility to accommodate changes. Such a detailed and important agreement would require professional assistance to put it together.