Parenting Time and Decision-Making Responsibility in Ontario

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Navigating family law issues can be an emotional and challenging experience, particularly regarding parenting time and decision-making responsibility (formerly known as child custody and access). In Ontario, this area of law is well-established and centres on making decisions that are in the best interests of the child or children of the marriage. Accordingly, it is important for parents to understand the key principles relating to parenting time and decision-making responsibility in Ontario and how parenting issues are handled.

What is the Difference Between Parenting Time and Decision-Making Responsibility? 

When spouses with children separate, they must make decisions about parenting arrangements for their children. Parenting time refers to the time that children spend with one parent, regardless of whether that time is physically spent with the parent, for example, when the children are at school.

Decision-making responsibility refers to who makes the important decisions regarding a child’s well-being relating to healthcare, education, culture, religion, and extra-curricular activities.

Types of Parenting Time Arrangements

In Ontario, parenting time arrangements may be structured in a variety of ways:

  • Shared Parenting Time: Under shared parenting time, a child will spend at least 40 percent of their time with each parent. This term is often referenced in discussions regarding child support.  
  • Split Parenting Time: Split parenting time arrangements can occur in cases where more than one child is involved, and each parent has the majority of parenting time (over 60 percent) with one of the children. Again, this term is often referred to when discussing child support matters.

Types of Decision-Making Responsibility

In Ontario, there are various decision-making responsibility arrangements, such as: 

·   Sole Decision-Making Responsibility: In some cases, one parent may be granted sole-decision making responsibility to make all major decisions about the child, including decisions pertaining to education, health care, and religion.

·   Divided (or Parallel) Decision-Making Responsibility: This occurs when one parent is responsible for making certain decisions regarding the child’s life, while the other parent is responsible for making other decisions affecting the child’s life.

·   Joint DecisionMaking Responsible: This arrangement will allow parents to jointly make major decisions affecting their child’s well-being, relating specifically to religion, health care, and education.

How is Parenting Time and Decision-Making Responsibility Determined? 

As the above sections demonstrate, a wide variety of parenting time and decision-making responsibility arrangements can be arranged between the parents. Further, like many family law considerations, parenting time and decision-making responsibility arrangements can be determined amicably between the parties or may require court intervention if it remains a contentious issue. 

Creating a Separation or Parenting Agreement

Parents do not always have to go to court to determine parenting time and decision-making responsibility in Ontario. If the parents agree on how to approach these matters, they can outline their arrangement in a separation agreement or parenting plan.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Options

If the parties do not agree on how they wish to approach parenting matters, they may wish to pursue alternative dispute resolution methods with the help of a family law lawyer, such as: 

  • Negotiation: where the parties negotiate parenting time and decision-making responsibility terms with the assistance of their lawyers. 
  • Mediation: where a neutral third party listens to each party’s position and helps them find common ground and agree on parenting time and decision-making responsibility arrangements.  
  • Arbitration: where a neutral third party listens to each party’s position and makes a binding decision on parenting time and decision-making responsibility arrangements for them. 

In cases where these matters are resolved and agreed upon between the parties in an amicable manner, it is also more likely that the parents will cooperate and comply with the terms put in place.

Seeking Court Intervention

Court intervention may be necessary where the parties do not agree on how to approach parenting time and decision-making responsibility and are unsuccessful in resolving their issues with alternative dispute resolution.

If the parties have to go to court for a final determination, the court will focus primarily on the best interests of the child or children, in accordance with section 16 of the federal Divorce Act, when making their decision. Typically, this assessment will consider the following factors, though the exact considerations are highly fact-specific and can vary based on the unique circumstances of each case: 

  • the child or children’s wishes, if appropriate;
  • the current parenting/living arrangements;
  • each parent’s capacity to adequately care for the child or children, including the degree of stability they can provide;
  • the likelihood of each parent to adhere to the parenting arrangements; and
  • relevant safety concerns regarding each of the parents, such as violence or addiction issues. 

Are Parenting Time And Decision-Making Responsibility Arrangements Permanent? 

Parenting time and decision-making responsibility agreements or orders are not always permanent. For example, in a parenting plan or separation agreement, the parties may agree that a particular arrangement will only remain in effect for a particular length of time (after which the parents may be at liberty to amend the agreement), or the court may make a temporary interim order while the parties wait for a final parenting order. 

Furthermore, if one parent wishes to amend an existing agreement or parenting order, and the other parent does not agree, the parent seeking an amendment can apply to the court for an order modifying the existing parenting order. However, it is important to note that the court will only entertain modifying an existing agreement or order if there is a valid reason.

What if the Other Parent Does Not Follow the Parenting Plan or Parenting Order? 

If the other parent is not following the terms of a parenting plan or order, the compliant parent can apply to the court to enforce the order. The court will determine whether the other parent has a valid reason for not following the order, and if they do not, the court may enforce the order, fine the other parent, or even order jail time for the other parent in extreme cases. 

Final Thoughts on Parenting Time And Decision-Making Responsibility in Ontario

Parenting time and decision-making responsibility arrangements or orders are indispensable tools for separated spouses. Remember that there can be benefits to resolving these matters through mutually agreed upon parenting or separation agreements or active participation in alternative dispute resolution processes. By harnessing these legal tools, parents will typically enjoy more flexibility and control over the ultimate determinations—and, hopefully, come to an agreement that works well for everyone involved. 

Johnson Miller Family Lawyers Provides Trusted, Full-Service Family Law Solutions in Windsor

At Johnson Miller Family Lawyers our skilled team of family lawyers provide comprehensive and personalized family law solutions to help clients navigate the complex legal landscape following a separation or divorce. We offer trusted advice and pragmatic legal advice to clients on all family law matters, and when necessary, we provide superior representation at trial. To better understand your options and the different types of parenting arrangements, contact us online or by phone at 519-973-1500.

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