Child Custody, Access, and Parenting Arrangements

child custody and access

Attending the opening game and celebrating birthdays become favourite family traditions. When parents separate family traditions don’t have to be forgotten or denied. It’s a small decision facing parents whether to continue these favourite activities upon separation, but for many children it’s a big deal. Here’s why.

Family traditions endure as special memories. These memories reflect a parent’s role of bringing stability, predictability, and security which anchor a child’s sense of self-worth and confidence, and encourage appropriate development. These anchors are reflected in the life decisions—the big ones and the small ones—that parents make for their children.

The ability of the parents to put the needs of the children first, and their willingness to cooperate and communicate effectively with each other to make life decisions about the children’s future, are the foundation of designing a child-focused custodial and access arrangement. Having custody or primary decision-making responsibility means determining where the children will live, selecting the schools they will be attending, handling medical issues, selecting their athletic extracurricular activities, and sharing religious and spiritual beliefs.

The Best Interests of the Child

The only consideration when it comes to making decisions regarding the children is their best interests. Many factors come into play:

  • The love, affection, and emotional ties between the child and parent, family members or caregivers
  • The child’s views and preferences if they can be reasonably ascertained
  • The length of time the child has lived in a stable home environment
  • The ability and willingness of each person seeking custody to provide the child with guidance and education, the necessities of life, and any special needs of the child
  • The plan proposed for the child’s care and upbringing
  • The permanence and stability of the proposed family where the child will live
  • The ability of each person seeking custody or access to act as a parent to the child

Exploring Access

Access means the right to visit the children and participate in daily parenting, to be informed of their progress in school, and to cheer them on at their sports games. That right extends to participating in parent–teacher meetings, medical appointments, and feedback sessions with coaches to learn about a child’s progress. Having only access rights limits a parent’s ability to make life decisions on behalf of the children, as this is a right reserved for the custodial parent.

Maximum Contact

There are many possible creative and flexible child custody and parenting arrangements which honour the principle of maximum contact between each parent and the children consistent with the overriding concern for the best interests of each child. The willingness of each parent to encourage and facilitate the children’s relationship with the other parent is important for a child’s development.

Parenting Arrangements

Planning ahead to take into consideration the children’s school year and activities, special needs, past family traditions and events, and the parents’ business and work obligations often reveals a regular parenting plan which makes sense to each family. It will also help map out such pieces as transportation logistics, while anchoring predictability and security for the children. Blending in vacation, statutory holidays, and tournament schedules rounds out a customized parenting plan. The plan is organic. It will normally require tweaks and adjustments. For some parents, it will mean alternate weekends and generous midweek contact; for others it will be an alternating partial- or full-week schedule with lots of telephone and mobile messaging. For more complex arrangements, the services of a parenting coordinator or family specialist are invaluable.