Vancouver Family Lawyers Providing Advice on Decision-Making Responsibility

Decision-making responsibility is a parent’s ability to make decisions about a child’s care, upbringing, and wellbeing. Formerly known as “custody”, decision-making responsibility can be one of the most contentious and time-sensitive issues to resolve after a couple’s separation or divorce.

Meridian Law Group is passionate about helping clients resolve parental matters as amicably as possible so they can move forward independently. Where decision-making disputes cannot be addressed through negotiation or mediation, the firm’s dynamic family and divorce lawyers vigorously advocate for clients’ interests in arbitration or at trial.

What is Parental or Decision-Making Responsibility?

The term “decision-making responsibility” is set out under the federal Divorce Act, which applies only to parents who were legally married. The Divorce Act defines decision-making responsibility as the ability to make decisions about a child’s wellbeing, including their health, education, culture, language, religion, spirituality, and significant extracurricular activities.

British Columbia’s Family Law Act applies to both married and unmarried parents and uses the term “parental responsibility”. The Family Law Act includes a more detailed definition of the decisions falling within parental responsibility, including:

  • The child’s day-to-day care, control, and supervision;
  • Where the child will reside;
  • Who the child will live and associate with;
  • The child’s education and participation in extracurricular activities;
  • The child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage (including the child’s Indigenous heritage, if applicable);
  • Giving, refusing, or withdrawing consent on behalf of the child, including for medical, dental, and other health-related treatments;
  • Applying for a passport, license, permit, benefit, privilege, or other thing for the child;
  • Receiving and responding to any notice that a parent or guardian is entitled to receive;
  • Requesting and receiving information relating to the child from third parties, including health or education information;
  • Starting, defending, compromising or settling processes relating to the child’s legal or financial interests; and
  • Any other matters reasonably necessary to nurture the child’s development.

Division of Parental Decision-Making

Decision-making or parental responsibility can be divided in different ways, with different effects on child support obligations.

Sole Decision-Making Responsibility

Sole decision-making responsibility is an arrangement whereby only one parent has the right to make decisions about the child’s care. This may occur where one parent has had little involvement with the child or has shown a lack of judgment in their parental decision-making.

As the parent with sole decision-making responsibility can be expected to handle the day-to-day expenses of raising the child, the other parent is usually responsible for paying child support.

Shared or Joint Decision-Making Responsibility

Parents who share decision-making responsibility have an equal say over the child’s upbringing and must make decisions through cooperation and consultation. It is in a child’s best interests for their parents to share decision-making responsibility, so long as they can do so with minimal conflict.

Split Decision-Making Responsibility

Parental decision-making can be split in two different ways:

  1. By child: The couple has more than one child, and each has the power to make decisions for at least one child. For example, the children may not live together most of the time, so the parents split decision-making by which child primarily resides with them.
  2. By issue: The parents decide to split decision-making responsibility for the same child by parenting issue. For example, one parent may choose to be the sole decision-maker for cultural and religious matters, while the other parent makes decisions affecting the child’s medical care.

Parents with split decision-making responsibility will usually set off the amount of child support. This means the parents calculate what they would each owe and determine a net payment by offsetting the two amounts.

Parenting Arrangement Agreements

A child’s guardians (most often their parents) may make an agreement about their parenting arrangements under British Columbia’s Family Law Act. A parenting arrangement agreement can set out the allocation of parental responsibilities, as well as parenting time and the method of dispute resolution to be used if the parents disagree in the future.

These agreements are made after separation or in anticipation of a pending separation. Once an agreement about the parties’ parenting arrangements has been made in writing, it can be filed with the court and is as enforceable as a court order. Where parents cannot reach a mutual agreement, they may require a family arbitrator or judge to determine how decision-making responsibility will be divided.

A separated couple may not reach a formal agreement about their parenting arrangements but have maintained an informal arrangement for enough time that it has become the child’s normal routine. Where this is the case, a parent cannot change the parenting arrangement without first consulting with the other parent.

Best Interests of the Child

Any agreement or court order relating to decision-making responsibility must be made in accordance with the child’s best interests and protect their physical, psychological, and emotional safety, security, and wellbeing as much as possible. Factors to be considered when determining what is in a child’s best interests include:

  • The child’s needs, based on their age and stage of development, such as their need for stability;
  • The nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each spouse, each of the child’s siblings and grandparents, and any other person who plays an important role in the child’s life;
  • Each spouse’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other spouse;
  • The history of the care of the child;
  • The child’s views and preferences, considering the child’s age and maturity, unless their preferences cannot be ascertained;
  • The child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including Indigenous upbringing and heritage;
  • Any plans for the child’s care;
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to care for and meet the needs of the child;
  • The ability of parents to cooperate and communicate with each other on matters affecting the child;
  • Any history of family violence and its effect on the parenting abilities of the person who engaged in the violence; and
  • Any legal proceedings relevant to the safety, security, and wellbeing of the child.

Considering the Child’s Wishes

Section 211 of the Family Law Act allows a court to order the assessment of a child’s views or wishes in a parenting dispute, including the issue of decision-making responsibility. These assessments are conducted by a family justice counsellor or social worker and are often referred to as “Views of the Child reports”. Reports prepared under section 211 can vary in length and carry different weights to a judge depending on the child’s age and maturity level.

Encouraging Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Divorce Act expressly requires parties to a family law proceeding to try to resolve parenting disputes through alternative dispute resolution processes, including negotiation and mediation. Similarly, British Columbia’s Family Law Act requires family lawyers to encourage their clients to explore alternative dispute resolution processes before applying to the court. Courts in British Columbia can also order mandatory family mediation where appropriate.

Parents should consult with a qualified family lawyer when facing any parenting dispute. Having experienced legal advice and representation in any dispute resolution process ensures the parent fully understands their rights and obligations under British Columbia’s family laws.

Contact Meridian Law Group in Vancouver for Knowledgeable Advice on Parental Decision-Making

Since 1988, the family lawyers of Meridian Law Group have helped clients understand their rights and responsibilities regarding parental decision-making. The firm understands the emotional stress families face when navigating a new family dynamic after a separation or divorce. Meridian Law Group provides trusted advice and creative legal solutions to resolve decision-making disputes with as little conflict as possible.

Meridian Law Group is known for legal excellence and exceeding expectations. Conveniently located in downtown Vancouver, the firm proudly serves clients in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia, including West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Penticton, Kelowna, Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey, Langley, and White Rock. Meridian Law Group also represents clients across Canada and internationally. To schedule a confidential consultation in your family law matter, please reach out online or call (604) 687-2277.