Any separation and divorce means sorting out a million details in order to dissolve your marriage – but it gets even more complicated when kids are involved. Who will they live with? How often will they see the other parent? What happens if somebody decides to move? You need to think of all of these things well in advance, and make sure they’re included in detail in your custody agreement.
Although it’s of the utmost importance that you have a solid custody agreement in place, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to go to family court. In fact, in most cases, child visitation rights are settled by the parents early in the process in order to minimize the disruption to their children’s lives. Avoiding a trial by settling earlier means far less disruption and trauma in all of your lives, especially the children’s, so it’s best to come to an agreement before you get to that point.
Your family lawyer will explain all of the options to you and help you come to a decision about what arrangement will be best for your family. We’ll briefly explain the possibilities here, but you should always consult with your lawyer regarding custody arrangements. Every family is unique, meaning that there is no cookie-cutter custody agreement – you, your spouse, and your lawyers will need to work together to find the best solution for yourselves and your children.
Types of Child Custody
Legally speaking, there are several different categories of child custody, and they are often misunderstood. Custody doesn’t necessarily refer to the amount of time a child spends with one parent or the other. In fact, what it means is the right to make important decisions about how to care for and raise a child – for example, with regards to education, medical care, and religion – regardless of where the child actually lives. There are several ways to arrange this:
- Sole Custody: This means that one parent has the sole authority and responsibility over major decisions regarding the upbringing of the children. Usually – but not always – the children live with this parent.
- Joint Custody: In this case, both parents share the responsibility for making decisions about their children’s care. This does not necessarily mean the children will spend an equal amount of time with each parent.
- Shared Custody: Like joint custody, this means that both parents share the decision-making responsibilities, but in this case, the kids spend at least 40% of their time with each parent.
- Split Custody: In this scenario, the couple has more than one child, and each parent has one or more of the children the majority of the time.
One thing to remember is that whether or not your children live with you the majority of the time, you are still their parent, meaning that you have the right to information about your child’s health, education, and religious training, whether this information comes from your ex-spouse or the children’s school or doctor. You are also financially responsible for your children, whether they live with you or not. The details of your custody agreement have no bearing on your financial obligations.
A Parenting Plan Protects Your Child Visitation Rights
No matter how insignificant your decisions may seem while you’re discussing them, everything needs to be included in your parenting plan. The more detail you have in the plan, the less room for disagreement.
Making sure all the details are nailed down will protect your rights to have regular access to your children. After all, being able to see your kids on a regular basis is vital for the happiness of well-being of you and the children alike, so the last thing you want to do is risk that in any way.
Fortunately, Ontario family courts also focus on making sure kids are able to see their parents regularly, and vice versa. Going to family court is the absolute last resort for couples who are separating. The divorce process includes plenty of opportunities to settle long before you ever see the inside of a courtroom. As long as both parties keep the best interests of the children in mind and are flexible with each other regarding holidays, vacations, and other special circumstances, it isn’t difficult to protect both parents’ visitation rights.
A parenting plan that works for both of you is vital to clear up any ambiguity and protect the kids (and yourselves) from any disputes. This is often best achieved by a collaborative team practice, rather than duking it out in court. A collaborative team practice means that a professional team of divorce lawyers will help you resolve your issues through a series of meetings. Both parents commit to not going to family court, and the lawyers will work together to find a solution, instead of opposing each other.
Use Your Access Rights – Or Risk Losing Them
Once a custody arrangement has been finalized, you both need to do your part to adhere to it. In order to protect your rights to access your children, you need to exercise those rights. If you don’t regularly see your kids at the appointed times, your custody agreement might not be upheld in court if it is challenged in the future. Both spouses need to take their parenting responsibilities very seriously at all times.
If the opposite problem comes up and you are being denied your rights to access your kids, it is very important to seek legal counsel before taking any action in order to avoid making the situation worse. Unless it can be proved that seeing you is not in the child’s best interests, you are entitled to visitation rights, and finding legal assistance immediately is the best course to take in order to reduce the time you have to wait to see your children. Your family lawyer can help you negotiate a parenting plan, if new terms are necessary, and restore your visitation rights. Again, do not try to fix the problem on your own – the last thing you want is to worsen the situation and make it more difficult to get things back on track.
Galbraith Family Law Helps Protect Child Visitation Rights
If you’re concerned about maintaining regular access to your children during and after your divorce, contact the lawyers at Galbraith Family Law. We have plenty of experience helping couples dissolve their marriages while avoiding disputes. If you’re committed to ending your marriage without going to family court, ask about our collaborative approach. In Newmarket, call us at (289) 802-2433; in Barrie, call (705) 302-1102.You can also send a message through our website.