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Child custody arrangements during separation and divorce

Unmarried and married parents are the guardians of their children, whether or not they remain together in the same household. Canada's federal Divorce Act uses the traditional term "custody" to cover parental duties toward children, living arrangements for children and a non-custodial parent's access to a child following a divorce.

Provincial laws like the British Columbia Family and Community Service Act do not mention "custody" or "access" to avoid encouraging an adversarial mindset among parents. Instead, the Family Law Act emphasizes shared responsibilities parents have toward children. For instance, parenting time or parenting arrangements have replaced the terms access or contact with a child in the provincial laws.

The wording of these laws is important for parents who apply for orders under the separate acts. Depending upon the specific circumstances, unmarried parents must file for custody orders in separate courts than married parents. An attorney can outline filing options.

Spouses have the option to customize their own child custody or parenting arrangements, provided the agreement prioritizes a child's welfare. This is an important point to discuss with a divorce lawyer since custody arrangements also impact judicial decisions about child support.

Types of parenting arrangements may include sole, joint or split custody. Split custody refers to arrangements where children live in both parents' residences. One or more children may reside with one parent, while the remaining children live in the separate household of the other parent.

Sole custody places physical custody and child decision-making responsibilities into the hands of only one parent. Under flexible joint custody plans, parents share making decisions about children. They also may or may not adopt shared child living arrangements.

Many parents prefer the idea of coming to an agreement with an ex-partner or spouse about custody rather than leaving the matter up to the courts. An attorney can provide guidance when negotiating those terms becomes difficult during a separation or divorce.

Source: Legal Services Society, "Family Law in British Columbia," accessed May 1, 2015

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