Parenting After Separation: Custody Arrangements

After separation, who will make decisions regarding your children?

As your family unit changes post-separation, you will need to decide how you and your co-parent will make major decisions about your children going forward.  The legal right to make these decisions is called "custody".  In this post, University of Ottawa law student and Fresh Legal summer intern, Kayla Sanger, explains different custody arrangements.

"Custody" Can Take Different Forms

Common custody arrangements include: 

  • Shared or Joint – Both parents share in making major decisions for the child.  This works best in low conflict situations where both parents share similar views on how to raise their child.   It is possible to assign different areas of decision making to each parent.  For instance, one parent may make decisions regarding the child’s education, while the other takes primary responsibility for decisions about the child’s health. 
  • Sole – One person has primary decision-making authority over the child.  Often the child lives primarily with this person, though that is not always the case. 
  • Split – One or more children reside primarily with one parent, while the other child(ren) resides primarily with the other parent.  The parent with whom the children reside has primary decision-making authority over the children in their care.
  • De facto –  This occurs when there is no formal custody arrangement in place, however one parent has assumed primary responsibility for taking care of the children while the other has acquiesced.  Normally, a court will be hesitant to interfere with this arrangement.

Custody is guided by the best interests of the child.

If and your co-parent are unable to decide on a custody arrangement, you may have to go to court so that a judge can examine your situation and make an order for you. A court order proving custody might be required when registering your child for school, consenting to medical treatment or applying for a passport.  

Custody will be decided in accordance with the child(ren)'s best interests.  Likewise, if there is a concern or issue with a decision made by the primary decision-maker, the other parent can go to court to challenge it, and the judge would consider the decision in light of the best interests test.