Understanding the basics of child custody in Ontario

This article discusses the definition of child custody in Ontario, whether sole or joint custody best serves the children, and ways to reach an agreement.

When the personal relationship between Ontario parents ends, they turn their attention to how they will continue their relationships with their children. While couples must deal with numerous issues as they go their separate ways, the issue of child custody often overshadows other issues until it's resolved.

Before parents can address this issue, they would undoubtedly benefit from an understanding of what child custody is. Many people are under the impression that child custody encompasses with whom the children will live with and how parenting time is divided between the parents. In actuality, child custody involves who will make major decisions on behalf of the children.

What types of issues child custody involves

The decisions parents make for their children influence the course of their lives. For this reason, determining who retains the legal right to make these types of decisions depends on a variety of factors. It is possible for parents to share time with the children as equally as possible while only one parent makes major life decisions for them. In the alternative, the parents could have joint custody and make the following types of decisions together:

· What religion, if any, the children will follow

· What school the children will attend

· What doctor will provide medical care for the children, among other health care decisions

In order for joint custody to work, the parents must have the ability to work together and amicably discuss these issues. Moreover, the parents need to be on the same page when it comes to these decisions in order for a joint custody arrangement to properly benefit the children. If the current state of the parents' personal relationship does not allow this to happen, a sole custody arrangement may work better until and unless that relationship improves.

However, a sole custody arrangement does not mean the other parent doesn't have a say. The parent with the legal right to make such choices could consult with the other parent, but then make the final decision alone. In fact, the court may include this type of provision in the child custody order.

Coming to an agreement

The court can make these decisions on behalf of parents, but it's not necessary unless certain circumstances exist that make it impossible. Ontario parents facing making this important decision do not have to rely on the court to make it for them. Parents who can work together may negotiate how child custody and other issues regarding the children will occur. Resolving these matters outside the courtroom gives parents more control over the final agreement and allows them to tailor it to the needs of the family.

Working outside the courtroom doesn't mean working alone, however. Mediation may help parents stay on track during negotiations, but the mediator does not represent either party. Each parent retains the responsibility of protecting his or her rights and ensuring the final agreement meets with certain legal requirements necessary in order to make it enforceable in court and binding on the parties. Making sure it passes the scrutiny of the court could be as simple as working with an experienced child custody lawyer.