PARENTING TIME, ACCESS AND PARENTING ARRANGEMENTS
With the introduction of the new Federal Divorce Act on March 1, 2021 the term “parenting” is now used in Alberta and federally to outline how divorced or separated parents make decisions regarding their child.
Parenting is the rights and responsibilities of the children’s care and upbringing. There are several types of parenting arrangements in Alberta:
- Joint Parenting: when parents share in parental responsibilities and make all major decisions about the children together. It does not mean that the children live an equal amount of time with each parent.
- Sole Parenting: where the children live primarily with one parent. This parent has the right to make the day-to-day decisions and the major decisions for the welfare of the children. The other parent may have parenting time with the child and the ability to make decisions about the child during that time, however the parent with sole parenting has the final decision.
- Shared Parenting: where the children live more or less equally with both parents.
- Split Parenting: where the siblings have been separated and each parent has parenting of one or more of the children.
It is a parent’s right to have contact with their child. Parenting time can be set out in a specific schedule (created on your own or with the help of a family law lawyer) or it may be left as reasonable parenting time.
If the parents can agree on parenting or decision-making arrangements, the agreement should be drawn up by a lawyer. There are certain formalities that are required to make it legally binding. Where the parents cannot agree on parenting time or decision making, the Court will make a Parenting Order. The Court will base its decision based on the best interests of the children and consider the following factors:
- Which parent has been mostly responsible for the care of the children up to now?
- Does either parent have problems or exhibit behavior that would make it harder for them to properly care for the children (e.g. drug use, criminal activity)?
- What kind of environment does the parent propose for the children (e.g. distance to school, parent work schedule, proposed caregivers)?
- What is the parent’s plan for the future?
- Will the parent cooperate to allow parenting time for the other parent?
- If the child is older, the Court may consider where the children want to live.
- What about the other children? The Court will not separate brothers and sisters without a good reason.
The Court will not consider:
- The gender of the parent in its decision on parenting.
- The financial status of the parents.
- Which parent was at fault for the marriage breakdown or the details for why the relationship ended (except in the event the parent’s behaviour has a direct impact on the children).
If circumstances change after an Order is granted, an application can be made to the Court to vary or change the Parenting time and Access Order. When the Court is asked to vary a Parenting time and Access Order, the focus is on the “best interests” of the child, not the interests and rights of the parents.