CHILD CUSTODY/GUARDIANSHIP VS. PARENTING TIME OR ACCESS
In Alberta, it is common for courts to use either the term “custody” or “guardianship” to refer to the right of parents (or other guardians in certain cases) to make decisions for their children. While it is common for children to spend the majority of their time with one parent (usually the mother), Alberta courts usually award joint custody to the parents, meaning that both parents will have an equal say in decisions affecting the children, even if they do not have equal time.
The amount of time that the children spend with the parent that they do not live with is called “access” or “parenting time”. Unless the parties have a shared custody type of arrangement where the children spend equal or almost equal amounts of time with each parent, one parent will be given the day to day care of the children. This parent is sometimes referred to as the primary residential parent. The non-residential parent is granted access or parenting time with the children in order to ensure that each parent is able to play a role in the lives of their children. Generally speaking, the court will strive to ensure that the children have maximum contact with each parent.
In determining which parent the child will live with, the court will examine a number of factors under the overarching principle of ensuring the best interest of the child. The status quo, i.e. what the children are used to, each parent’s plan for raising the children and involving the other in the lives of the children, each parent’s availability for the children given their work obligations, the parent’s insight and ability to foster the emotional and intellectual needs of the children, and many other factors are all considered. All in all, it is best for parents to attempt to agree on a schedule that works best for them and their children, as opposed to seeking a determination from the court that one or both parents may not be happy with.
Although some parents want to cut off all contact between their child and the other parent, this only happens in the rarest of circumstances. The test is whether or not terminating the contact with his or her parent is in the best interest of the child. One parent’s dislike of the other or the apparent bad character of the access parent is not enough. Generally speaking, children benefit from contact with both parents and any judge will be extremely hesitant to even consider the complete termination of a child’s contact with a parent.