Child Custody Arrangements

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There’s nothing easy about divorce. Both the decision to separate as a couple and the process which follows that decision take a toll emotionally, physically and financially – and it can be even worse when there are children involved. On average, judges grant child custody for fathers about 10% of the time. That means that child custody arrangements overwhelmingly side with the mother of the child.

This is why it’s of the utmost importance for fathers to know the child custody laws in Canada when seeking a separation or divorce. It’s also important to understand the different types of child custody arrangements, and what they might mean for the future.

  • Sole Custody: Sole custody is exactly what it sounds like: one parent is given 100% custody of the child(ren).
  • Joint Custody: Also referred to as “joint legal custody,” joint custody means that both parents share equally in the raising of the child(ren). The child custody laws of Canada require that parents cooperate in all manners of parenting.
  • Shared Custody: A form of joint custody, shared custody (or “joint physical custody”) requires that the child custody arrangements give equal parenting time to each parent, with each parent spending no less than 40% of his/her time with the child(ren).
  • Split Custody: This is the rarest of child custody arrangements, as it literally “splits” the children up between parents.  Since most courts attempt to keep siblings together, split custody occurs very infrequently.

Child Custody for Fathers

So as a dad, where does this leave you? If Canadian courts rarely grant child custody for fathers, what can you do?  First and foremost: breathe. Fathers have child custody rights, too.

  • Talk to your soon-to-be “ex.”  Everyone is affected by divorce – not just you. Having a calm, non-confrontational discussion with your former spouse may save you and your children a lot of heartache later.
  • Talk with a lawyer.  If your former spouse is not amenable to a discussion about custody, then a professional can help. Family lawyers are well-versed in all areas of child custody laws in Canada, and can advise you on what steps to take to reach an agreement that satisfies everyone. Be aware, however, that court costs and lawyers’ fees can get very expensive if the divorce proceedings take longer than expected, or if one side becomes bitter and/or vengeful.
  • Don’t settle for “visitation only” right away.  Access to your children is one of a father’s child custody rights. Again, it’s best to speak with a family law practitioner to see what evidence you can present to create a stronger case for sole or joint custody.
  • Consider the children.  The most important matters in child custody arrangements deal with the children themselves.  Your first concern should ALWAYS be for their welfare, safety and happiness.  A court may take into account your children’s opinions about custody.  However, this does not mean that your children would have to testify in court; all it means is that if your children have a preference in where they wish to live, that preference should be communicated to the presiding judge. Just remember that the child custody laws in Canada require that a judge does as s/he sees fit, so if the children are better suited living with one parent over another, their opinions might not hold as much away.

Know What a Father’s Child Custody Rights Are

Just because sole child custody for fathers is rare doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  However, both you and your former spouse may be better served putting your children’s needs first. Sitting down with older children to discuss the options as a family may make the process easier and less damaging for everyone.  And if courts grant sole custody to your former spouse, remember that it doesn’t have to stay that way.  People’s lives change – for the better and the worse – and the courts are often willing to reconsider child custody arrangements if the non-custodial parent’s living and/or financial situations improve.