Child Custody, Residency and Access Overview
Custody and access issues can be very emotional for the parties involved. The courts and family law practitioners work diligently to creatively craft solutions to fit every family. Parents have an advantage in having a professional and experienced lawyer manage and direct custody and access negotiations. Child issues are delicate and complex and having a professional assist you in this area can ease decision making and guide you to make rational decisions instead of emotional ones.
At Heft Law, we maintain a professional stance and seek to be your voice of reason as well advocate for your rights. We are experienced in the area of custody and access, helping families find solutions for the future and in the best interest of the children.
The best interest of the child is paramount. All decisions about children are made based on their needs. Custody is only about decision-making for the child and not about where the child lives or with whom. The most prevalent major decisions for the children relate to religion, education, major medical decisions and other important decisions affecting the child, such as mobility. If the parents cannot cooperate to make decisions for the child, it is in the child’s best interest that one parent be responsible for decision-making.
Day-to-day decisions are usually addressed by the parent with whom the child is with at the time the decision needs to be made.
Different types of custody arrangements exist but it is always the beset interests of the child that govern.
Custody can be in several different forms such as:
- Joint custody: when both parents make decisions jointly.
- Sole custody: when only one parent makes decisions.
- Sole custody with consultation: both parents are involved in decision-making for the child, but in the event of a stalemate, one parent will have the final say.
- Split custody: when decision-making is divided by children.
- Parallel custody: when decision-making is divided by issue such as one parent is responsible for education and another for religion.
Unless prohibited for some reason, both parents are entitled to information about the child such as being able to speak to teachers, caregivers, doctors and other professionals involved with the children.
Child Access, Primary Residence and Nesting
Primary residence is where the child lives the majority of the time. The parent with whom the child primarily resides is usually the parent to receive child support from the other parent. In shared custody cases, the child may have two primary residences.
Taking a child-centric view, in most cases, it is in the child’s best interest to have maximum contact with both parents.
Child access refers to the time the non-residential parent spends with the child often referred to as parenting time. Often the parents will have a regular and fixed schedule for regular access and a holiday/special occasion access schedule that overrides the regular access schedule. The best result is when the parents negotiate a schedule that makes sense to them and their children, taking into consideration work commitments and the children’s best interests and needs.
In some cases, supervised access may be necessary and can be ordered by a judge or agreed to by the parties. This normally occurs when the child’s safety becomes a concern, or there is a chance that the non-residential parent is a flight risk.
Supervised access is when a third party supervises the access to ensure the safety of the child and often to make a report as to the events of the access. Supervised access can take place at a supervision centre or at a designated location such as the home of a trusted relative.
Lastly, there is nesting. This is not common, but at Heft Law, we are seeing this more often. Nesting is when the children remain in the family home and the parents rotate in and out of the home on a schedule. Nesting is usually implemented on a temporary basis. This scenario is sometimes seen while the parents are waiting to sell the house, although if it works, some people are happy to have nesting continue for quite some time.
Parenting Coordinators and Mediation
It is always best, when possible, that parents negotiate and agree between themselves issues relating to their children. For this reason, at Heft Law, we often direct our clients to seek the assistance of a parenting coordinator to assist with the preparation of comprehensive parenting plans.
Parenting coordinators can assist with and mediate such issues as choosing extra curricular activities, summer camps, vacations, tutoring, telephone access, etc. For smaller day-to-day issues, using a parenting coordinator can save time and money. Using a parent coordinator is much more efficient and preferable than going to court. We believe that the litigation process can negatively impact the family unit and if going to court can be avoided, we encourage our clients to use friendlier alternatives.