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Child Custody

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 both parents have equal say in decisions affecting children even if they do not have equal time.

Time children spend with the parent they do not reside with is called “access” or “parenting time.”  Unless the parties have a shared custody type of arrangement where children spend equal or almost equal amounts of time with each parent, one parent will be given the day to day care of them.  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 children have maximum contact with each parent.

In determining which parent the children will live with, the court will examine a number of factors consistent with principle that ensuring the best interest of the children comes first.  The status quo (i.e. what the children are used to), each parent’s plan for raising the children and involving the other parent in the lives of the children, each parent’s availability for the children given their work obligations, each parent’s insight and ability to foster the emotional and intellectual needs of the children, and many other factors are weighed.  In the end, 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 most rare circumstances.  The pertinent question is whether terminating contact 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 consider the complete termination of a child’s contact with a parent.

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