Introduction When parents decide to separate or divorce they need to make important decisions regarding the parenting of their children. Both parents have an equal right to custody of their children until a court orders otherwise. Having child custody means that a parent has a right to make important decisions in the child’s life, such as education, living arrangements, medical care, and others. Child custody is always determined with the goal of meeting the best interests of the child. This article outlines the definition of child custody, names different types of child custody, and explains the requirements of applying for child custody in the province of Ontario. Definition Child custody refers to the care, control, and maintenance of a child which the court may award to one or both parents following their separation or divorce. The courts usually appoint biological parents to have custody of children, however at times the courts may appoint other members of the family to take care of the children. When the parents divorce or separate, child custody arrangements are usually part of the divorce decree or the separation agreement. Different Types of Custody There are four different types of child custody. Sole custody is when one parent has custody of a child. Joint custody is when both parents have custody of children. This can also be called joint legal custody. Courts usually grant joint custody only if both parents can cooperate on matters involving parenting. Shared custody or joint physical custody is when the parents have joint custody of children, and both parents spend at least 40% of the time with their children. Split custody is when one parent has custody of some of the children, and another parent has custody of the remaining children. This type of custody is rarely granted because courts are reluctant to separate children in this way. Best Interest of the Child When deciding who will have custody of the child, courts usually look at: · the parent-child relationship and bonding before separation or divorce; · parenting abilities; · the parent’s mental, physical, and emotional scenario; · compatibility of the parent’s and child’s schedules; · sibling issues – usually courts are reluctant to separate children; and · the child’s wishes, but this depends on age. How to Apply A parent seeking to obtain child custody should make an application to the provincial court. Only biological parents can apply for a child custody order. If this is not possible, then the other family members should contact a family counsel and obtain legal advice. Both parents have equal custody rights until the courts decide otherwise and make an order. Divorce settlements usually outline custody arrangements. However, if the parents cannot agree on such arrangements, then it is likely that each parent will apply for custody to the courts. How Do Courts Decide Who Will Have Custody? Usually the primary caregiver of a child obtains child custody. However, courts usually ask for a child custody assessment before deciding on who will obtain custody. A child custody assessment is an evaluation and recommendation completed by a professional to determine who should receive custody. Usually, a psychologist or a social worker performs such an assessment. Either a psychologist or a social worker prepares a report outlining the recommendations. Assessments last on average from one (1) to three (3) months, depending on the situation. The average cost of an assessment is between $4,000 to $10,000 and is paid by both parents. If the parents are unable to afford the assessment, then a government agency may provide the assessment for free. However, the agency does not take all cases. Child custody assessment reports are very important because in most cases custody is settled on the basis of the assessment report. Access and Visitation rights In the event that one parent loses child custody that parent then is able to see the child based on the visitation rights agreement. It is important for parents to realize that visitation is a very difficult process for children and it may cause them emotional trauma. Therefore, visitation rights are more about the child’s interests rather than the parents’ wishes. Alternatives to Going to Court Most parents do not go to court for custody reasons because the process is time-consuming, expensive, and stressful for both parents and children. In order to resolve custody disputes parents have a number of options. Seeking the Advice of a Professional If you have decided it is time to seek the advice of a professional ensure to email us your contact information and one of our lawyers will contact you promptly. 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