The lives of all involved usually change dramatically after a romantic relationship ends. While separation can be difficult to face emotionally, other issues can and do arise as well. In addition to dividing assets, when children are involved, custody and visitation (sometimes called access or parenting time) matters will need to be determined. In British Columbia, this is true whether the relationship took the form of a formal marriage or common-law marriage (also called a "marriage-like" relationship).
There are three types of custody acknowledged in the Divorce Act. Split custody, joint custody and sole custody. Under the Family Law Act which also relates to common-law marriages the term guardianship, not custody is used. When a judge is left to make determinations about which parent will have the children, the judge will make the decision based upon is what is in the best interest of the children. This involves looking at all relevant matters, including the children's psychological, physical and emotional:
Under the Divorce Act, split custody will come into play when there is more than one child for whom custody is being determined. Depending on a variety of factors it is possible, in some situations, that the children might be split up.
When possible, setting up joint custody of all children, is often preferred, however there is no legal presumption that joint custody is in a child or the children's best interest. Under a joint custody arrangement the rights and responsibilities for the children are shared. This includes not only custody, but decision making responsibility as well.
Other situations call for one parent to have sole custody. When this occurs, legal responsibility for making decisions and caring for the children is placed with just that party.
The arrangements for custody and care of children need not all look the same. When parents can work together to reach an agreement regarding the matter the plans developed can look like whatever they want. They can also have some flexibility. Because the custody arrangement has a bearing on child support matters it is important the parents involved work with family law lawyers who understand the impact such a decision can have on the bigger picture.