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Child Custody & Access

What is Custody?



Succinctly stated, custody is decision-making authority: the right to make the important decisions about the care and upbringing of a child–e.g. the child’s religion, schooling and medical treatment. If the parents disagree about what is best for the child, it is the parent with custody who gets to make the final decision. In addition to decision-making, custody normally includes the physical care and control of the child.

What is Access?

Access is the right of a child to spend time with the parent who does not live with him or her. It may also be referred to as parenting time. Access arrangements differ depending on the circumstances of the parents and children, such as a child’s age. Courts consider a child benefits from contact with both parents, unless something might put the child at risk, such as physical abuse. A parent with access is entitled to information about the child’s health, welfare and education, unless the Court orders otherwise. 

Joint Custody

Joint custody means that both parents share in the decision-making process. For joint custody to work, the parents must be able to communicate and cooperate, at the very least with respect to those important decisions pertaining to the children. The courts start from the premise that both parties should be involved as much as possible with their children, and that joint custody is an arrangement to which to aspire. This being said, however, a court is reluctant to order joint custody if the parents are constantly at each other’s throats. How could joint custody possibly work if the parents refuse to even speak to each other? 

Shared Custody

Shared custody speaks not only of decision-making authority. It also refers to the time the child spends with each parent. Shared custody implies joint custody. But in a shared custodial arrangement, the child lives roughly half of his/her time with each parent. Shared custody could have an impact on the child support obligations of the parents. 

Common FAQs About Custody & Access

What are my responsibilities if I have custody of my children?

If you and your spouse agree that you should have custody of the children, or if the judge decides that you should have custody, you have the responsibility for making the major decisions about your children’s upbringing and schooling. The children will usually live with you most of the time. In most cases, the other parent still has responsibility to care for the children some of the time. Remember, the law says that there should be as much contact as possible with both parents as is best for the children.

I don't have custody. Can I still spend time with my children?

Generally, the parent who does not have custody of the children still has responsibility to spend time with them. If you cannot agree on these access arrangements, the court will decide for you. A parent with access usually spends time with the children, such as on a weekday evening, on weekends and on holidays, and may ask for information about the children—news about their health and well-being and about how they are doing at school. As a parent with access responsibilities, you can ask the court to order the other parent to give you advance notice if the custodial parent intends to move the children to another home.

At what age can my children decide where they want to live?

There is no magic/set age at which a child has the right to decide where he or she is going to live. The court gives more weight to the child’s wishes as the child matures.