Tips on how to navigate child custody arrangements
Separation and divorce can bring significant changes, particularly to families with children. As a parent, you want to proceed in a way that will enable your child to continue to grow and develop in an optimal environment. But figuring out what that means in the face of such massive disruptions can take some work.
Our divorce and family lawyers can walk you through the specifics of your family situation and offer tips on how to navigate child custody arrangements in Alberta.
Guardianship, parenting orders and contact orders
In Alberta, child custody and guardianship matters are governed by either:
- the Divorce Act, if you were married and have applied for a divorce or other relief under the Act, or
- the Family Law Act.
Neither Act uses the term “custody” anymore. “Parenting time” is now used to describe the time a child spends in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
Typically, if a child’s parents were in a relationship and parenting the child together, they each remain a guardian of that child after their separation unless a court makes an order indicating otherwise. If a child has two guardians and they are unable to agree with respect to any aspect of parenting the child, the court will issue a parenting order, which will allocate the rights and responsibilities of the guardians and allocate parenting time as necessary.
The court also has the ability to issue a contact order in cases where it considers it is in the best interests of the child to maintain a relationship with a non-parent (often a grandparent) and where the child’s guardian or guardians have been unwilling to ensure the relationship is preserved.
Negotiating an agreement
There are many decisions, both large and small, that need to be made on a regular basis when parenting a child. If you and your spouse are able to agree with respect to parenting matters, you should be in a good position moving forward.
Even if you and your spouse are in complete agreement with respect to the children, consider having a written agreement drawn up. Complete flexibility is bound to cause frustration eventually. It is easier to agree to a proposed change to the established parenting schedule than to renegotiate the parenting schedule from scratch on a weekly basis.
Also, remember that your life and your spouse’s life may change down the road. Your spouse may be accommodating to your schedule now, but that may change in a year or two when they have a new spouse and additional children or step-children to take into account.
You can have the terms of a written agreement made into a court order, which makes it easier for the court to enforce if necessary.
Not all parents are able to agree with respect to what is best for their children. If necessary, you can ask the court to make an order dealing with various aspects of guardianship or parenting time.
A parenting order can specify what decisions may need to be made with respect to a child and which parent will make them. If decisions must be made together, an order may include some kind of dispute resolution process for dealing with conflicts. A parenting order can also include a schedule setting out each parent’s parenting time with the child.
Parenting orders can be changed as your child gets older and their needs change. This can be done either by agreement or by applying to the court for the necessary change.
Whatever stage your family is at in the divorce or separation process, you can contact our family lawyers for tips on how to navigate child custody arrangements.