The test to be applied by the court in making any order respecting the parenting of children is “What is in the Best Interests of the Child?”, having regard to “the child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being”.
One of the key things that we look out for as parents is the best interests of our children, so it is no surprise that when a question about parenting time (or custody) comes before the court that the best interest of the child is also the primary consideration.
Sweeping amendments in the Divorce Act made in 2019 and effective March 1, 2021, make changes to centre the conversation around children. One of these changes includes altering the language we use. This article will focus on with the language of “Custody” being replaced with “Parenting time”. Custody connotes ownership. By changing the language of the conversation, we take away the connotations of ownership that the word custody carries, and instead use a term that puts the interests of the child at the centre of the conversation. Defining Parenting time unlike custody is the activity of bringing up a child which is a more appropriate term in considering the best interest of the child .
The amendments to the Divorce Act put new emphasis on encouraging the parties to negotiate their Parenting time and create Parenting Plans which can be incorporated into their Parenting Orders.
Parenting Plans can be comprehensive and detailed. Parenting Plans will deal with parenting time and often include provision for the following:
- the actual care schedule – this might include in addition to a description, the incorporation of a calendar.
- the sharing of holidays.
- travel and relocation protocols, including notice, itineraries, travel authorizations and passports.
- provision for third party contact.
- communication protocols (email, texts, phone calls, social media) between parents and between parents and children.
- means of making changes to the schedule.
- general parenting guidelines, for e.g., diet, exposure to third parties, environmental considerations, discipline, bedtimes, third parties, cultural and religious considerations etc.
- childcare – right of first option if one parent is not available during their time.
- how and where exchanges will work – authorized persons to receive or pick-up
- medical and health plan information and coverage issues – claims coordination –protocols for choosing providers – how emergencies will be dealt with.
- educational issues, including choice of school, sharing of responsibilities an information, parental involvement and sharing of expenses – provision for post-secondary education.
- activities – choices and limitations – parental involvement – cost sharing
- sharing of the child’s property between homes.
- changes and modifications to the plan – provisions for dispute resolution – mediation and arbitration.
This list is not exhaustive. There are hundreds of sample parenting plans and templates on the internet. The Department of Justice has an online Parenting Plan Tool which is a good start. The trick to a good Parenting Plan is to form a balance between the needs of the family and abiding by the laws.