Vancouver Family Lawyers Providing Advice on Parenting Time
Parenting time is the amount of time a child spends with each parent after a separation or divorce. Formerly known as “access”, parenting time can be a highly contentious and urgent issue and can directly affect a parent’s child support obligations.
Meridian Law Group provides clients with peace of mind by providing dependable advice and attentive representation in parenting time matters. The firm’s skilled family lawyers help clients reduce conflict by exploring collaborative dispute resolution whenever possible. When parenting disputes proceed to court, the lawyers of Meridian Law Group are dynamic advocates and effectively fight for clients’ parental rights.
Parenting Time vs. Decision-Making Responsibility
Parents may find themselves confused by the various terminology relating to the division of parental rights.
Parenting Time refers to the amount of time a child is with their guardian (usually their parent) under an agreement or court order. Parenting time was formerly referred to as “access”. The term “parenting time” is used in both the federal Divorce Act, which only applies to parents who were legally married, and British Columbia’s Family Law Act, which applies to both married and common-law spouses.
Decision-Making Responsibility refers to a parent’s ability to make significant decisions relating to a child’s upbringing and wellbeing and was previously known as “custody”. The term “decision-making responsibility” comes from the Divorce Act, while the language used in the Family Law Act is “parental responsibility”.
There can be some overlap between parenting time and decision-making responsibility in British Columbia. The Family Law Act provides that a parent may make day-to-day decisions affecting their child during their parenting time unless an agreement or court order states otherwise.
Division of Parenting Time
There are three primary types of parenting time arrangements:
- Shared Parenting Time, where each parent has the children in their care for approximately 40% of the time;
- Primary Parenting Time, where one parent has the children in their care for at least 60% of the time; and
- Split Parenting Time, where a couple has multiple children, and at least one child resides with each parent most of the time.
Agreements on Parenting Arrangements
British Columbia’s Family Law Act provides that parents may file a written agreement setting out their parenting arrangements with the court, which can be enforced as if it was a court order. These agreements may address parenting time, the division of parenting/decision-making responsibilities, and how to resolve disputes if they arise. Parenting arrangement agreements must be made at the time of separation or in anticipation of separation.
Even if parents do not create a formal, written agreement about parenting arrangements, they may still be found to have created an “informal arrangement” under the Family Law Act. An informal arrangement arises when the parenting structure has been in place for enough time to form part of the child’s normal routine. A parent cannot change an informal parenting arrangement without first consulting with the other parent.
Child Support & Parenting Time
The division of parenting time can affect a parent’s child support obligations. The basic table calculations under the Federal Child Support Guidelines no longer apply where parents have a shared parenting time arrangement. Instead, in most cases, the parent with the higher income is responsible for child support.
Best Interests of the Child
Parenting time must always be in the best interests of the child. An agreement or court order respecting parenting time can be set aside by a court if it determines that the arrangement is not in the child’s best interests. 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.
A court may attach any conditions it considers appropriate to a person’s parenting time. For example, the court may require the parenting time to be supervised, take place on certain days, or be exercised in particular locations.
Wishes & Views of the Child
Children are entitled to have their voice heard when parents are unable to agree on the division of parenting time. The evidentiary weight of a child’s wishes will depend on the child’s age and overall maturity.
Section 211 of British Columbia’s Family Law Act allows a court to order an assessment of the child’s needs and wishes. A family justice counsellor or social worker prepares a report and provides it to the court and the parents. The assessor also considers whether a parent is inappropriately influencing the child’s views.
Parental Alienation & Parenting Time
Parental alienation occurs when a parent damages the other parent’s relationship with their child. This can happen when the parent who causes the alienation makes disparaging comments about the other parent in front of the child or tries to align the child against the other parent (i.e., getting the child “on their side”).
Parental alienation causes harm to the child as it can result in a parent-child estrangement. Courts are highly critical of parents who cause alienation and may try to remedy the problem by ordering professional “reunification counselling” for the child and the innocent parent.
Parents who cause parental alienation can face serious legal consequences for their conduct. As alienation is never in a child’s best interests, the responsible parent may have their parenting time reduced or revoked entirely.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Both federal and provincial family laws encourage parents to try to resolve parenting disputes through collaborative processes (e.g. negotiation or mediation) before resorting to litigation. Under the Family Law Act, judges in British Columbia can order mandatory family mediation where appropriate.
Where negotiation or mediation is ineffective or inappropriate (for example, in cases with a high level of family conflict or family violence), parents will need to proceed to court or family arbitration to have the matter decided for them.
Having a capable family lawyer ensures parties understand their rights and obligations and can expedite the resolution of disputes. Agreements reached without parties receiving independent legal advice are vulnerable to future scrutiny by the court.
Contact Meridian Law Group in Vancouver for Knowledgeable Advice on Parenting Time
Meridian Law Group‘s responsive family and divorce lawyers understand the urgency and emotional dynamic of parenting matters after a separation or divorce. The firm has decades of experience advocating for clients’ needs and legal rights in parenting time disputes. Meridian Law Group provides robust advice and creative legal solutions that set clients’ minds at ease and deliver results.
Since 1988, Meridian Law Group has been a touchstone of the family law community in British Columbia. Located across from the courthouse in downtown Vancouver, the firm proudly serves clients throughout British Columbia, including West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Penticton, Kelowna, Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey, Langley, and White Rock. To schedule a confidential consultation in your family law matter, please reach out online or call (604) 687-2277.