First off, learn the correct terminology. “Custody” refers to legal decision making not physically where the child lives or other such arrangements.
Use the term “parenting arrangements” instead. The Divorce Act uses the term joint custody to talk about joint decision making hence the confusion.
Many people incorrectly believe “joint custody” means “shared parenting”. It does not.
The two most common types of parenting arrangements are primary care or shared parenting.
Primary care is when your child or children live over 60% of their time in one parent’s household.
Shared parenting is when your child or children live over 40% of their time in both parents’ households. There is a lot of dispute over how these percentages are arrived at.
When in doubt, you should consult with a lawyer. I would be happy to discuss this with you. You may book a consultation by calling (780) 761-1070 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note there is a fee for this consultation.
Parenting arrangements should focus on what is in your child or children’s best interests. Both parents need to set aside their own emotions and respect your child’s or children’s relationship with the other parent. You should also factor in time with important family members or friends who have a positive relationship with your child or children.
The Government of Alberta has a good parenting plan template that can be downloaded from the Parenting After Separation Course materials. There is no set format or precedent for what a parenting plan should look like. If a parenting plan works, then you can ask a lawyer to make it legally binding through a Separation Agreement or by Court Order.
If shared parenting is an arrangement you are considering, please ensure that your child or children have personalities that can tolerate or enjoy moving from one household to another household. Typically this is rotated weekly or every two weeks. Be sure your child or children’s schooling, activities and friendships are not disrupted by the shared parenting arrangement. Often times, divorce and separation can be a lonely period for a child or children as they cannot confide in their friends and often times, their parents are in their own emotional turmoil. Keeping familiar routines and surroundings will help your child or children cope with all the changes that come with divorce and separation.
Be sure to include communication rules in your parenting arrangements that guide how parents and extended family as well as close friends speak in front of your child or children. Remember your relationship break-up does not mean your child or children break up with their parent too. Often times, a child or children learn coping skills and conflict management skills from their parents. A child or children will carry these learned behaviors into their own relationships. Be sure to “get on the same page” in how you model appropriate behavior and in how you teach communication during conflict to your child or children. Be sure to keep children out of your disagreements and do not put the children in the middle of your conflict. The Focus on Communication in Separation course is offered by the Government of Alberta and is free. A very good resource to access, if communication is difficult.
In domestic violence situations, parents still need to communicate about parenting arrangements and may use third parties as a means of safety planning. Hopefully with effective legal advice, a routine parenting arrangement is put in place so and minimizes the chance of domestic violence occurring. Again, it is best to secure legal advice early especially if your child or children are left with an abusive parent.
Lastly if you have not visited or had access with your child or children for an extended time and you cannot reach agreement with the other parent, start a Court application for visitation sooner rather than later. The passage of time creates a “status quo” and it will become more difficult to legally prove your interest in having a relationship with your child or children.
Remember I am a consultation away….deal with parenting arrangements early and then enjoy the relationship you have with your children.