Vaughan Family Lawyers Providing Advice on Parenting Time (Access)
Parenting time (previously known as access) is the amount of time a couple’s children spend in the care of each parent post-separation. This is sometimes confused with decision-making responsibility (or custody), which refers to a parent’s ability to make decisions about their child’s well-being and day-to-day life.
At GDH Family Law, we understand separation and divorce can impact the parent-child relationship and alter the family dynamic. Our seasoned lawyers create parenting time solutions that aim to limit family conflict while always prioritizing the children’s best interests.
Parenting Time Arrangements
The amount of parenting time granted to each parent can be decided through negotiation or mediation and set out in the terms of a separation agreement. Where the parents cannot reach a mutual agreement on parenting time, it may need to be resolved through arbitration or a trial in court.
Shared Parenting Time
A common parenting arrangement is shared parenting time, where each parent has the children in their care at least 40% of the time.
As the children spend nearly equal time with each parent, their expenses can be expected to be roughly the same. Therefore, a lower amount of child support may be payable than ordinarily provided by the Child Support Guidelines. In shared parenting time arrangements, each parent’s entitlement to child support is calculated as if they are the primary caregiver. The parent responsible for the higher amount of child support pays the difference to the other parent.
Primary Parenting Time
In a primary parenting arrangement, the children are in the care of one parent at least 60% of the time. The other parent’s parenting time varies depending on the family’s particular circumstances. If there are safety concerns regarding the non-primary parent, a court may require their parenting time to be supervised.
As one parent has the bulk of the caregiving responsibility under a primary parenting arrangement, the other parent is usually required to pay the total amount of child support owing under the Child Support Guidelines.
Split Parenting Time
In families with multiple children, the parents may split their parenting time. This means one or more of the children live primarily with each parent. This also creates a corresponding split in child support obligations as both parents are the primary caregiver for at least one child. Each parent is entitled to child support for the child(ren) in their care, which is calculated based on the gross annual income of the other parent.
Each parenting time arrangement has a different impact on child support. It is important to note that child support payments are not “set-offs”, like extraordinary expenses. Parents should make the full payment to each other to take advantage of related tax benefits and credits. An experienced family lawyer can ensure that any separation agreement between the parties is drafted to maximize these entitlements.
Best Interests of the Child
The primary consideration when determining parenting time is the best interests of the child or children, regardless of whatever conflict may exist between the parents.
When determining what is in a child’s best interests, the Divorce Act requires the court to consider all of the child’s circumstances, including (but not limited to) the following factors:
- The child’s needs, based on their age and stage of development, such as their need for stability;
- The nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each parent, their siblings, and grandparents, as well as with any other person who plays an important role in the child’s life;
- Each parent’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other parent;
- The history of the care of the child;
- The child’s views, considering their age and maturity;
- The child’s upbringing and heritage, including their culture, religion, and spiritual influences. This especially includes their Indigenous upbringing and heritage, if applicable;
- Plans for the child’s care;
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to care for the child and meet their needs;
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to communicate and cooperate with each other on matters affecting the child;
- Any history of family violence and its impact on the violent person’s ability and willingness to care for and meet the child’s needs. Courts also consider whether an order requiring parents to cooperate with one another is appropriate given the history of family violence; and
- Any civil or criminal matter relevant to the child’s safety, security, and well-being.
A parenting plan clarifies the expectations, rights, and responsibilities of each parent regarding the care of their children. It may form part of a separation agreement or court order. Many parenting plans address the specifics of parenting time, including:
- How much parenting time each parent has;
- What days of the week and hours they exercise their parenting time on;
- How parenting time is apportioned during holidays and vacations; and
- Drop-off and pick-up schedules and locations.
Parenting plans can also address other aspects of the parties’ parenting arrangements, including decision-making responsibility (formerly known as custody). The plan can also set out rules for how the parents communicate with each other and address the child’s contact with other family members.
The emotional nature of family law matters can create substantial conflict between separated parents. A parent whose conduct damages the relationship between the child and the other parent may be found to have caused parental alienation – i.e. an estrangement between the child and parent. This can occur when the parent disparages the other parent in front of the child or takes other action intended to align the child against the other parent.
Parental alienation can cause difficulties with parenting time where the child refuses to see the alienated parent. In some cases, a court may try to mend the relationship by ordering the child or alienated parent to attend reunification/reconciliation therapy.
A parent who tries to turn their child against the other parent is not acting in the child’s best interests. The parent who causes the alienation can face serious legal consequences for their conduct, including reducing or losing their parenting time.
Contact GDH Family Law in Vaughan for Advice on Parenting Time
At GDH Family Law, our divorce lawyers have dedicated their entire careers to providing creative legal solutions tailored to the needs of our clients’ families. We understand the emotional nature of parenting disputes and provide as much or as little support as needed in each case. Our experienced team assists in a variety of issues relating to parenting time, including negotiating or mediating the terms of a parenting plan or fighting for our clients’ rights in court.
We are an innovative boutique law firm based in Vaughan and helping clients throughout the surrounding areas, including Maple, Concord, Woodbridge, Markham, Kleinburg, Richmond Hill, Nobleton, Toronto, Newmarket, Aurora, Brampton, Caledon, Mississauga, Etobicoke, North York, Thornhill, and King City. For a free initial consultation on your family matter, contact us at 416-535-6944 or reach out online.