Free information about
Child custody, support and access in Canada
How are decisions made about custody of the children?
deciding who should have responsibility for children after a marriage is
over is not easy. Sometimes both parents want custody of the children.
If you can't decide who will take care of the children, the divorce law
sets out some basic principles that a judge must use when making
decisions about children.
When deciding on the best
interests of the child, the judge will take into account a number of
- Care arrangements
before the separation. (Who looked after the child most of the time?
Who took the child to the doctor and dentist? Who arranged
extracurricular activities? Who dealt with the child's school and
- The parent-child
relationship and bonding.
- Parenting abilities.
- The parents' mental,
physical and emotional health.
- The parents' and the
- Support systems (for
example, help and involvement from grandparents and other close
- Sibling issues.
Generally, brothers and sisters should remain together, but under
some circumstances it may be necessary to consider separating them.
- The child's wishes.
(There is no magic age at which a child has the right to decide
where he or she is going to live. The court gives more weight to the
child's wishes as the child matures. An older teenager's wishes will
often be decisive.)
What are my responsibilities if I have custody of my children?
and your spouse agree that you should have custody of the children, or
if the judge decides that you should have custody, you have the
responsibility for making the major decisions about your children's
upbringing and schooling. The children will usually live with you.
cases, the other parent still has a right to be with the children some
of the time. Remember, the law says that there should be as much contact
as possible with both parents as is best for the children. However, in
serious circumstances, a judge may decide that it is in the children's
best interests not to spend time with the other parent.
benefit from the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with
both parents and with other extended-family members as long as it is
safe and positive to do so.
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I don't have custody. Can I still spend time with my
Generally, the parent who does not have custody of the children has a
right to spend time with them. If you cannot agree on these access
arrangements, the court will decide for you.
A parent with access usually has rights to:
time with the children, such as on a weekday evening, on weekends
and on holidays; and
receive information about the children—news about their health and
well-being and about how they are doing at school. As a parent with
access rights, you can ask the court to order the other parent to
give you advance notice—at least 30 days-if he or she intends to
move the children to another home.
right to be with your children is not carved in stone. You can lose your
access rights or they can be limited. For example, if you don't follow
the court order or if you act in a way that is harmful to your children,
the court can decide to change the access arrangements.
is joint custody?
a husband and wife want a divorce, but want to continue to share their
responsibilities as parents equally.
custody means that both of you have custody of the children. In other
words, you both continue to share in making all the major decisions
concerning the children (about discipline, school, major outings,
holidays, etc.). If there is joint custody, many different living
arrangements are possible. The children may live with each parent about
the same amount of time or live mostly with one parent.
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Do I have to use the terms "custody" and "access" when
deciding upon parenting arrangements?
Divorce Act uses these terms, but this does not limit the types of
parenting arrangements that may be included in written agreements or
legal documents. Other words or descriptions can also be used to set out
parenting roles and responsibilities.
What alternatives are there to going to court?
parents go to trial about custody. Proceedings can be expensive and
stressful both for you and for the children. You have choices other than
going to court to reach agreements on parenting arrangements.
can go to a family mediator. A mediator is generally a person with a
legal or social work background who has special training in helping
people resolve disputes. A mediator works with both of you and helps
you discuss and decide on the arrangements for your children.
can meet with a lawyer who will explain your legal rights and
obligations and help you negotiate an agreement.
can meet with a family therapist, child psychologist, social worker,
family doctor or other professional who knows about the effects of
separation and divorce on children of different ages.
courts now offer parent-education sessions, which present options for
settling the issues you face upon separation and divorce. These sessions
also discuss the impact of separation and divorce on children.
If both spouses can agree to all of the issues related to
separation and divorce,
including issues about property and debt, equalization, and issues about child
custody, access and child support, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars
on legal fees by using a service that helps you
prepare and file your own joint or simple divorce
such as this site's sponsor,
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the amount of child support determined?
after divorce, both parents have a legal duty to support their children
have worked out the residential arrangements for your children, you will
need to look at the payment of child support. Before granting a divorce,
the judge must be satisfied that appropriate financial arrangements have
use a set of rules and tables, called child support guidelines, to help
you figure out the amount of child support. The federal government has
produced a number of
publications to help you calculate child support.
Who pays child support
depends on the child's residential arrangements. The basic amount is
based on three things:
- the payor's income;
- the number of
children involved; and
- the province or
territory where the payor lives.
circumstances, the base amount can be increased or decreased. For
example, the amount could be adjusted if the children have special
expenses, such as childcare. The amount could also be adjusted to
prevent financial hardship for a parent or the children. This might be
fair when, for example, the parent paying the child support is suffering
a hardship—perhaps because that parent is supporting a new family and
has a lower standard of living than the parent receiving the child
support amounts set out in a separation agreement or court order made
after April 30, 1997, do not affect income tax.
person who receives the child support payments does not have to list
them as income on his or her income tax form.
person paying the child support cannot deduct the support payments from
his or her income.
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