Custody is all about decision making authority. The parent who has custody gets to decide solely on issues affecting the child(ren), such as: what school they will attend, what doctor or other health care provider they will see, their religion instruction and welfare. While in most cases the parent with custody is the one that has primary residence of the child, this is sometimes not the case – custody is not necessarily related to where a child lives. Custody is about which parent will have decision making authority over the child(ren).
Parents who have joint custody of their children share the right to make decisions about their care. The children may spend half the time with one parent and half the time with the other. Both parents remain involved in making decisions about the children. Joint custody only works when separated parents are able to communicate with each other and come to agreements despite their differences.
If you do not have custody of your children, you have a right to spend time with them unless the court decides that this is not in their best interests. Access arrangements can be written out in detail in a parenting plan, separation agreement or court order. The plan, agreement or order could say that the children would be with you every other weekend and on certain holidays (i.e., Mother’s day/Father’s day, holidays, etc.). Access agreements can be very flexible as well. In most cases, an access parent will have full rights to information about their children, including their health, education and welfare. There are some access parents that also have limited rights over certain types of decisions for their children (however this is not common and every case is unique).
Both parents have a responsibility to financially support their children. They share this responsibility when they are living together and continue to share it after they separate. This responsibility applies to all parents, regardless of whether they were married, living together or have never lived together. The parent with primary residence of the children has to take care of them, buy them food and clothes for them, pay for outings and activities, look after all their day-to-day needs and keep the home running. The Access parent usually has to pay the parent with custody money to help cover the costs of taking care of the children. This payment is called child support. The amount of child support to be paid in Ontario is set out under the Child Support Guidelines and is based on the income of the person who does not have primary residence of the children. In rare cases, a court can award less than the guideline amount where paying the amount would cause undue hardship to the payer. The person paying support usually must provide yearly financial information to the support recipient.