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How is Parenting Time Different from Decision-Making Responsibilities in Ontario Parenting Agreements?

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What Do You Need to Know About Setting Up a Parenting Agreement in Ontario?

A parenting agreement is made after a divorce or separation involving at least one minor child. This document outlines each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding the child’s living arrangements, important life choices, and more. In the past, these decisions were discussed in terms of physical and legal custody.

In 2019, Ontario updated the wording of its Divorce Act to reflect a greater focus on the well-being of the children involved. Now your parenting agreement will include the terms “parenting time” and “decision-making responsibility”, instead of “access” and “custody”. Understanding what these terms refer to and how they can be used to create a mutually beneficial parenting agreement is critical for newly-divorced or separated parents.

What are the Important Distinctions Between Parenting Time vs. Decision-making Responsibility?

It’s crucial to remember that parenting agreements can look different from family to family.

These differences can be distilled down to choices regarding parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.

  • Parenting time: Previously referred to as access, this is the time when a parent is responsible for their child and is acting as the primary caregiver, even if the child is in school or daycare. Usually, the child is living with the parent during this period unless the agreement involves supervised parenting time, where the parent can only see their child in the presence of another party monitoring the interactions. Being allocated parenting time gives a parent the right to request information from the other parent about their child’s well-being, education, and other essential matters.
  • Decision-making responsibilities: Previously referred to as custody, when a parent has decision-making responsibilities, they are allowed to have the final say on fundamental aspects of their child’s upbringing, including their cultural influences, education, medical decisions, religious affiliation, and more. These responsibilities can be shared or granted to one parent.

There is obviously an overlap between these two areas since a parent has general decision-making responsibilities for the day-to-day issues affecting the child during their parenting time. However, while either parent can make minor decisions during their parenting time, major decisions must be made by the parent with that responsibility or agreed upon by both parties if it is a joint responsibility.

If You Have Joint Parenting Time, Do You Automatically Have the Right to Equal Input on All Decisions Affecting Your Child?

Your decision-making responsibilities are not automatic and ultimately depend upon the nature of your parenting agreement. If both parents can easily agree on decisions, they may choose to share the responsibility for all decisions equally. If there are issues that one parent feels strongly about or has particular knowledge of, then the agreement may allocate different types of decisions to each parent. For example, one parent may be responsible for all choices regarding their child’s education and religious upbringing, while the other handles medical and health-related decisions.

If the court does not believe that you and your ex-spouse can effectively work together and put aside your differences to make important decisions about your child’s well-being, the court may choose to grant sole decision-making responsibility to one parent. If this happens, the other parent must still be notified of the decisions and may express opinions, but one parent will have the final say.

You can set up your parenting agreement to be as specific or open as you wish on each parent’s decision-making responsibility. If it is left up to the court, a judge may delegate different duties to each parent based on what they believe is in the child’s best interests. The child’s needs are always paramount in court proceedings and should be given the utmost consideration in any negotiated agreement.

A carefully crafted parenting agreement ensures that the court and everyone involved understands the nature of your co-parenting system. An experienced Ontario custody lawyer can help you create the necessary documents to record these arrangements and make sure all potential areas of disagreement have been resolved.

How Does Your Parenting Agreement Impact Your Child Support?

The court generally follows the child support guidelines set out under Ontario and Federal law. While decision-making responsibilities do not necessarily have an impact on child support orders, your parenting time arrangement will. In particular, the law makes provisions for parents who engage in split parenting time with multiple children or shared parenting time where each parent has a child for at least 40% of the time.

If you are concerned with how your parenting agreement may affect your child support, a knowledgeable Toronto child support lawyer can explain the implications and options during the negotiation process or court proceedings so that you can make informed choices for your family.

How Can a Well-Versed Family Law Lawyer Assist You?

Even if you and your ex-spouse are on good terms, it can be challenging to smoothly negotiate a parenting agreement. If there are disagreements, emotions can run high, and talks may be derailed, leaving these vital decisions up to the court. The court is bound by law to act in the best interests of the child involved, and thus may give little consideration to each parent’s preferences, potentially leaving you with an awkward agreement that you would not have chosen for your family.

Family law lawyers are skilled in negotiating parenting agreements and working through the difficulties involved to create a unique plan that meets the needs of your child. We can help you develop novel solutions for parenting time and decision-making arrangements that fit your family. Contact our law firm today for all your parenting agreement needs.

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