When Parents Live Apart
When parents live apart decisions need to be made about the children.
The basic decisions include:
- where the children will live
- when the children will spend time with each parent, or other people in their lives
- how decisions about the children will be made
- how the children will be supported financially
If parents cannot agree they can ask the court to make decisions.
There are two main decisions that need to be made when deciding on parenting arrangements. Parents must decide when the children will be with each parent. This is called parenting time. Parents must also decide how important decisions about their children's lives will be made. This called decision-making responsibility.
When these decisions are made the best interests of the children are what must be considered.
The law states that only the best interests of the child are considered when deciding on parenting arrangements. What is best for the children, not what each parent wants or needs, is what is important. The law does not favour mothers over fathers. The law doesn’t favour keeping sons with their fathers or keeping daughters with their mothers, either.
There is no particular type of parenting arrangement that is considered to be in every child’s best interests. For example, courts do not assume that a child spending an equal amount of time with each parent is the best arrangement. Parents must be able to show that what they want is in the children’s best interests.
The court must, above all, protect the child’s physical, psychological and emotional safety, as well as their security and wellbeing. The court must consider the best interests of the child but they also consider the circumstances of each child.
The following things must be considered when determining the best interests of a child…
- the needs of the child based on their age and stage of development
- the nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each parent and others who play an important role in the child’s life, including siblings and grandparents
- each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent
- history of childcare
- what the child wants, while considering the child’s age and maturity
- the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including Indigenous upbringing and heritage
- any plans for the care of the child
- the ability and willingness of the parents to care for and meet the needs of the child
- the ability and willingness of the parents to communicate and cooperate with each other
- any family violence
- any court case or court order that is relevant to the safety, security and wellbeing of the child
Parenting time is the time children spend with a parent. It can include time that the children are not physically with the parent. For example, if a parent hired a babysitter during their time with the children, it would still be considered their parenting time.
There are many ways to divide the time the children will spend with each parent. Some examples include the children:
- living mostly with one parent and spending time with the other parent according to a schedule or as agreed by the parents
- alternating weeks living with each parent
- living with each parent part of each week - with those days changing or not changing every week
There can also be different arrangements for times such as school breaks and summer vacations as well as any other special days such as birthdays or religious holidays.
A parenting time order can also cover things like…
- location and time for pick-up and drop-off when the children move between homes
- communication with the children when they are with the other parent
- attendance at child-related events
Decision-making responsibility means making important decisions about a child’s life. When parents are together, they often make these types of decisions together. When parents are no longer together, or have never been in a relationship, these decisions still need to be made. If parents cannot agree about how to make decisions, the court can make an order about decision-making responsibility.
Decision-making responsibility can be shared by the parents, or one parent may have the sole decision-making responsibility. It can also be divided between the parents, with each parent being responsible for certain decisions. When decision-making is shared, a court order can set out what happens if the parents cannot agree. When one parent has the sole authority to make some or all decisions, a court order can state that the other parent must be consulted.
Decision-making responsibility is not about making day-to-day decisions about the children, like what they will eat or wear or what their bedtime should be. It is about important decisions. These include, but are not limited to, decisions about
- extra-curricular activities
- medical care
- name changes
Support for Children
Both parents have a duty to support their children, even if they have never been or are no longer together. This responsibility is ongoing until the child is at least 18. This responsibility doesn’t end if your relationship with the other parent ends, regardless of the circumstances of the break up. This responsibility continues even if you enter into a new relationship. You have this responsibility whether you spend time with your children or not. You and the other parent cannot agree that no child support will be paid.
You and the other parent may agree on the amount of child support. If you cannot agree, in almost every case, you will need to use a family dispute resolution process to try and resolve the issue before applying to court. If you still cannot come to an agreement, either party can then ask the court to decide on child support. There are Child Support Guidelines to help determine a fair amount of support for a child when the parents are not together.