Finalizing Your Parenting Agreement: Ontario

Agreeing with your child's other parent on decision-making responsibility and parenting time saves you time and money. Also called settling, it supports a healthy co-parenting relationship because you don't have to rely on a judge to decide how you'll cooperate after separation.

You can iron out the details of your agreement with or without the help of a lawyer or an alternative dispute resolution professional. It's often best to get professional help, especially if you don't feel comfortable around the other parent, one of you has a severe mental illness or drug addiction or you simply have trouble communicating.

Here's what to do after you've reached an agreement with your co-parent.

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Step 1: Decide whether to submit the agreement to court

Once you have an agreement you have three options:

  • Keep it between the two of you
  • Submit it to the court for record keeping
  • Get a consent order (a type of final parenting order)

Separated parents with amicable relationships often use the first option to avoid court. If you choose this option, you don't need to complete any of the following steps. You technically don't even need to write down or sign your agreement. However, doing both makes it an enforceable contract, as long as it meets certain requirements.

The second option is used mostly by parents who think they may need help collecting child support in the future. Handing in a child support agreement, even without requesting a consent order, allows the court or Family Responsibility Office to enforce the support terms of the agreement.

The last option is available to parents who've applied for a parenting order and reach an agreement during the court process. Getting an order compels both parents to abide by the agreement to avoid sanctions like fines. Alternatively, many parents choose to withdraw their case and keep the agreement between them.

Step 2: Write out your agreement

At a minimum, you should put together a parenting plan that details the type of decision-making responsibility and parenting time you've agreed to. Include a parenting time schedule.

Legal experts strongly recommend putting more details like how you'll transition the child from one parent's care to the other's. A parenting plan tool, such as the Custody X Change parenting plan template, can help ensure that you don't overlook essential topics.

You could include child support in your plan. The government sets out what child support information to include in your parenting plan. The judge might not approve your support agreement if it's far from the amount recommended in the Ontario child support guidelines.

In order to establish child support, your child must have a legal father. If you've yet to confirm your child's paternity, your parenting plan should include a statement acknowledging that both of you are the child's parents.

For separating spouses, a parenting plan is an addendum to the agreement that covers nonparenting matters (such as property division). If you reach agreement before opening a court case, this document is called a separation agreement. If you reach agreement after opening a case, it's called a minutes of settlement.

Both parents must sign all the documents in front of a witness of their choosing. The witness cannot be a relative or anyone who would benefit from the contract.

Possible: Review the agreement with a lawyer

If you or someone other than a lawyer drafted your agreement, it's a good idea for each parent to hire a lawyer to look it over. Lawyers know the rights and responsibilities parents have and how to properly structure and word an agreement so that it is legally binding.

This is even more important when parents write an agreement on their own without guidance from an online tool like Custody X Change.

Step 3: Complete additional paperwork

Submitting an agreement only

If you've opted to submit your agreement to the court for record keeping, one parent must fill out an Affidavit for Filing Domestic Contract with Court, then attach it to the agreement. That parent will need to sign the affidavit in front of a lawyer, notary or commissioner for taking affidavits.

You'll also need to complete the Family Responsibility Office's Registration Package. The person paying support can fill out the payor information form, while the support recipient fills out the rest.

Getting a consent order

If you're getting a consent order, you must bring a motion on consent. Complete the following:

Also, fill out Affidavit (Form 35.1) if you haven't already turned it in.

If you're settling child support, you'll need to fill out the following, unless you submitted them with your application:

When you include personal information like bank account numbers or credit card numbers, it's best to use the last three digits only. You'll need to include your full social insurance number on the Support Deduction Order Information Form.

Make at least two copies of each form.

Update your table of contents with all of the forms you completed in this step.

Step 4: Ask for a motion date and serve the other parent

Skip this step if you're not getting a consent order.

If you are applying for an order, call your court or go to the courthouse to ask the clerk for a motion date. Write this date on a Notice of Motion form.

Then serve the notice and your other documents to the other parent at least six days before the motion date. Since you've agreed on everything, they do not have to respond. Fill out an Affidavit of Service as proof the parent was served.

Step 5: Submit your agreement to the court

You can file most family court documents online or file them in person as outlined below.

Submitting an agreement only

Give your agreement (with the affidavit attached) to the court clerk in the Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice if there's one in the municipality where your child lives. If not, turn in the documents at the Ontario Court of Justice.

Then, mail copies of the agreement, your affidavit and your registration package to the Family Responsibility Office.

This is your final step. If need be, you can make changes to your agreement later (more below).

Getting a consent order

In most cases neither parent has to attend the motion. Just give your forms from Steps 3 and 4 to the court clerk along with two stamped envelopes — one addressed to each parent.

A judge will review your agreement before signing off on it as the final order. They won't sign off if the terms are not in the best interest of the child. You receive a copy of the order (or an explanation as to why the agreement was not approved) via post or email.

If your agreement is not approved, you can refine it and submit it to the court again.

Changing a written agreement or consent order

You can change your agreement or consent order as needed.

If you have a private agreement, the two of you can make any changes you agree on. To make them legally binding, write them and sign your names.

If you have an agreement or consent order on file with the court, bring a motion to change your agreement or order. This is the process regardless of whether you agree on the change or want the judge to decide on a disputed change.

Following your agreement's terms

After you receive the final order, your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more with one tool, use Custody X Change. The app's calendars, custody journal, expense tracker and parenting plan template make life after settlement as straightforward as the settlement itself.

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