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Child custody basics for Ontario parents

Ontario couples who are considering divorce may not be aware of the basics of child custody and access laws. Understanding these laws may help them work toward a parenting plan that is equitable to both parties and provides for the child’s best interests.
Some parents may not realize that child custody refers to an individual’s decision making ability regarding a child’s care, and it does not refer to the amount of time a parent spends with the child. A child might split time equally between two parents while only one parent has custody. Parents who share custody must agree on decisions about the child’s health care, religion, schooling and other activities, but a person who has sole custody is able to make those decisions without input from the other party.
Depending on how well they get along, parents can choose between fixed access and reasonable access agreements. Fixed access is generally a more formal agreement that strictly dictates the amount of time each parent spends with the child. Reasonable access allows for more flexible and informal arrangements. Supervised access may be necessary if one parent has been abusive or has had a substance abuse problem, and in some rare cases, one parent may not be given access at all.
Access is also separate from child support. Failing to pay child support will not affect a parent’s access to a child. In court, the child’s best interests are generally the determining factor for custody and access decisions, but it may be easier for some to reach an agreement without taking the case before a judge. Some individuals may choose to negotiate without intervention, or they might pursue mediation or arbitration.
However, in each case, the advice of a lawyer may be beneficial. A lawyer could help a client make sure that a tentative agreement protects his or her client’s rights while providing for the child’s future.
Source: Community Legal Education Ontario, “Separation and Divorce: Child Custody, Access, and Parenting Plans“, June 24, 2014