Courts use the terms “custody” and “guardianship” to refer to the right of parents (or other guardians) to make decisions for their children. While many children spend the majority of their time with one parent (usually the mother), Alberta courts usually award joint custody, meaning both parents have an equal say in decisions affecting their children even if they do not have equal access.
Time children spend with the parent they do not reside with is called “access” or “parenting time.” Unless the parties have a shared custody arrangement where children spend roughly equal amounts of time with each parent, one parent will be given day to day care of the children. They are referred to as the “primary residential parent.” The “non-residential parent” is granted access/parenting time to ensure they play a role in the lives of their children. The court will usually strive to ensure children have maximum contact with each parent.
In determining which parent children will live with, the guiding principle is the best interest of the children comes first. The status quo (what the children are used to), each parent’s plan for raising the children and involving the other parent in the lives of the children, each parent’s availability for the children given work obligations, each parent’s insight and ability to encourage the emotional and intellectual development of the children, and many other factors are weighed. If possible, it is best for parents to build a schedule that works well for all, as opposed to seeking a determination from the court.
Some parents want to cut off all contact between their children and the other parent; however, this is rarely granted. Again, the pertinent question is whether terminating contact is in the best interest of the children. One parent’s dislike of the other or minor character flaws of the access parent is not sufficient grounds. Generally, children benefit from contact with both parents.
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