Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody: What Makes Them Different?

A child custody agreement outlines who your children will live with after a divorce or legal separation. It also lays out the various parenting responsibilities, such as deciding where the kids live and go to school and what medical care they receive. While the particulars are unique to each family, your role and responsibilities will largely depend on whether you have a sole or joint custody arrangement.
It is important to note that with the 2021 updates to Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act, custody/parenting agreements now use the terms ‘parenting time’ and ‘decision-making responsibility.’ Both married and unmarried parents, whether they lived together or not, fall under this provision.
The same terminology also applies to parents who are now divorced or in the process of divorcing – the Divorce Act was amended in 2020 to refer to parenting time and decision-making responsibility instead of custody and access.
At Galbraith Family Law, we help clients defend their parental rights, regardless of the parenting time arrangement they’re pursuing. In this article, we provide a detailed overview of how parenting time and decision-making responsibility work, particularly in a sole vs. shared context.

Parenting Time Under the Children’s Law Reform Act

Parenting time, as outlined under Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act, refers to the amount of time a child spends with each parent. As stated earlier, this concept replaced the previous terms of “custody” and “access” with the amendments to the Act in March 2021. It does not include the authority to make crucial decisions about the child’s upbringing- that right is reserved for the parent who holds decision-making responsibility.
The Act stipulates that each parent should have as much time with the child as is consistent with the child’s best interests. In other words, the scheduling and division of parenting time must prioritize the child’s well-being and development. This includes considering the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety, security, and well-being.
The Act also underlines the importance of maintaining emotional connections between the child and each parent, minimizing disruption to the child’s life, and considering the child’s views and preferences, given their age and maturity, unless they cannot be ascertained.
In some cases, parenting time may be subject to supervision or conditions for the child’s safety and well-being. These can include stipulations on where the parenting time occurs, who else can be present, or prohibiting substance use during parenting time.

Child Support and Parenting Time in Ontario

Parenting time can have an impact on child support in Ontario. Under the Child Support Guidelines, the amount of support a parent is required to pay typically depends on their income, the number of children they have, and the province they live in. However, if each parent has the children for at least 40% of the time over the course of a year, it’s considered a shared custody situation.
In cases of shared custody, calculating child support can become more complicated. The Guidelines state that the amount of child support should take into account both parents’ incomes as well as the proportion of time each parent spends with the children. It also considers the increased costs of shared custody arrangements.
The goal is to ensure that the children experience a similar standard of living in both households. But each case is unique, and a variety of factors will be taken into consideration. Therefore, it’s recommended to seek legal advice to understand how parenting time could affect child support in your specific situation.

Decision-Making Responsibility Explained

Decision-making responsibility refers to the responsibility of making significant decisions about a child’s well-being. Examples include decisions related to the child’s health, education, culture, language, religion, and significant extracurricular activities. The aim of this change in terminology was to shift the focus from parents’ rights to the responsibilities parents have towards their children, thereby prioritizing the child’s best interests.

What is Sole Decision-Making Responsibility?

Sole decision-making responsibility refers to one parent having the final say in key decisions concerning the child’s upbringing and welfare. While the other parent can express their views on major issues and must be informed about all significant decisions, the final choice rests with the parent having the decision-making responsibility.

What is Joint Decision-Making Responsibility?

Joint decision-making responsibility is a setup where both parents share equal responsibility in making decisions. This requires effective communication and a willingness to put aside disagreements when important parenting decisions arise. If you and your ex-spouse or partner struggle with constructive co-parenting, the court is unlikely to grant joint decision-making responsibility.
Joint decision-making is often mistakenly equated with what used to be called shared custody. In reality, shared custody refers to a parenting time arrangement, not decision-making power. It means that each parent spends at least 40% of the time with the children. Shared custody can occur regardless of whether parents also have joint decision-making responsibility.

What is Split Decision-Making Responsibility?

With split decision-making responsibility, each parent has sole decision-making responsibility for one or more children in the family. For instance, if one child lives with you, you have the right to make important decisions for them while your former spouse or partner has the same responsibility for the child or children living with them.
It’s important to note that such arrangements are rare, as courts typically avoid separating siblings during separation or divorce. However, they might consider split decision-making responsibility if the children are old enough to express a clear preference about their living arrangements.

Do You Have Questions About Parenting Time and Decision-Making Responsibility?

Parenting time, decision-making responsibility, and child support are all interconnected areas that can deeply affect your child’s life and your relationship with them. That’s why it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of these elements, whether you’re dealing with sole or shared parenting time and responsibilities.

At Galbraith Family Law, we understand that these are difficult times, and our commitment is to ensure the best outcome for your family. If you’re a parent facing separation or divorce, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today to discuss your situation and explore your options.

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