Ontario Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Ontario and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Ontario courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
When involved in a child custody case in Ontario, it is important to have an understanding of the way the province handles family matters, custody, and access.
The Province of Ontario publishes a booklet entitled What You Should Know About Family Law in Ontario. It is available in both French and English, and gives a summation of the family laws legislated by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Creating a parenting plan can be made easier by learning about these laws and the requirements of the court.
The booklet explains some of your legal rights and obligations, explains which court your case will be heard in, and provides other options, besides court litigation, for resolving your custody and access dispute.
It also provides answers to frequently asked questions and can be a valuable tool to use when creating a parenting plan.
Here are some common terms used in Ontario parenting plans / custody agreements:
- Custody: If you have custody of the children, the children live with you and you have the right to make important decisions about their care, education, welfare, etc.
- Access: When one parent has custody, the other parent has access. This is the right to spend time with the children. Access arrangements can be a detailed schedule in the custody plan, or the access arrangements can be open where the parents work together to figure out visitation for the week.
- Joint custody: This is when parents share the right to make important decisions for the child, and the child spends significant time with both parents. (It doesn't mean that each parent gets exactly half of the time with the children). Both parents remain highly involved in raising the children and the parents need to cooperate and communicate with each other.
If you are in dispute regarding the custody of your child, you have a few options available to you besides going to court and having the judge decide your child's fate.
You have the right to attempt to resolve your issues by:
- Attending mediation or arbitration
- Attempting a private settlement or negotiation
- Utilizing collaborative family law
Regardless of the method, it is always better to attempt to work together and reach an agreement, rather than have the fate of your child's custody be developed and determined by the court.
Child custody and access are important issues, and it is a good idea to spend some time developing a good plan, rather than making hasty decisions.
A temporary order for child custody and access may be issued, allowing both of you enough time to reach an agreement and to put some thought into the parenting plan and access schedule.
This will also allow ample time to request an assessment, which entails having a social worker, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional review your family situation in detail.
Every situation is different, but typically when you separate, it is common for the person that maintains custody of the children to continue to reside in the family home.
This helps provide your child with a bit of stability during this tumultuous time in his or her life. It is important that your child feel loved by both parents, be able to spend adequate, if not ample, amounts of time with each of you, and that your child be made to feel as secure as possible.
Your Ontario parenting plan should contain the following elements:
- A statement declaring the type of custody each parent will have
- An access and visitation schedule that specifies the days and times the child will be with each parent
- A statement defining the parental rights and responsibilities of each parent
- A method for making revisions to the parenting plan, should circumstances or the needs of the child change
- Methods for dispute resolution, to avoid returning to court, should disagreements arise in the future
- Any other stipulations you would like to include
In order to avoid potential conflict, it is important that your parenting plan be as detailed as possible.
The main priority of the court and the judge is the best interests of the child, and the judge will consider only the factors that affect the mental, physical and emotional well-being of the child when making a decision.
Here are some things you should keep in mind as you create your parenting plan / custody and access agreement:
- The child should be provided with a safe, stable, and secure environment.
- The child should be loved and nurtured.
- The child should be provided with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
- The child should be able to live in a home free of violence, neglect, drug abuse, alcohol abuse.
- The child should not be subjected to residing in a home with a person that has committed a violent crime or a perpetrator of domestic violence.
- The child should be able to maintain a sense of stability and be able to maintain his or her sense of family and community.
- Divorce and family restructuring are difficult for children and every effort should be made to ensure the child's life remains as normal as possible, despite the circumstances.
- Established relationships with any siblings, grandparents, and other people of importance in the child's life should be preserved, rather than disrupted.
- As long as there is no danger to the child, the child should be able to have relationships and frequent, continuing contact with both of his or her parents.
- Each parent should allow the child to be able to communicate with the other parent, via telephone, electronically, and by mail, as often as the child would like.
The judge will consider these and all other relevant factors when determining the custody and access of the child.
By addressing these and any other pertinent factors when developing your Ontario parenting plan, you will be better prepared to create a parenting plan the court will approve of.
The top twenty cities in Ontario (by population, Statistics Canada) are: Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Hamilton, Brampton, London, Markham, Vaughan, Windsor, Kitchener, Oakville, Burlington, Richmond Hill, Sudbury, Oshawa, St. Catharines, Barrie, Cambridge, Kingston, Guelph.