Parents have responsibilities towards their children regardless of how they became a parent and regardless of their relationship with another parent. When parents separate or divorce, important decisions about how to continue to care for the children must be made. These decisions must also be made when parents have a child together but are not in a relationship.
The basic decisions include:
- where the children will live
- when the children will spend time with each parent, or other people in their lives
- how decisions about the children will be made
If parties are unable to agree on these issues, they can ask the court to make parenting orders. There are laws that set out what the court will and will not consider when deciding on parenting arrangements. Understanding these principles can help parents reach their own agreement. These principles will also help parents who need to go to court decide what to ask for and how to best explain their reasons to the court.
Who are Parents?
Before technologies such as assisted reproduction existed, the person who gave birth to the child and the person they conceived the child with were the parents, unless the child was adopted. Now determining who the parents of a child are can be more complex.
When parents cannot agree on parenting arrangements they can ask the court to make a parenting order.
Best Interests of the Child
When parents of a child no longer live together, or never did live together, they need to make decisions about how their children will be cared for. When considering how to work this out a phrase that will come up again and again is the best interests of the child. In fact, our laws say that court decisions about parenting arrangements must always be based on what is in the best interests of the child.
Decision-making responsibility is the authority to make significant decisions concerning a child’s well-being. When parents are not together choices must be made about how important decisions about the child's health and well-being will be made.
Parenting time refers to the time that a child is in a parent’s care. When parents are not together they can agree or the court can make an order about when the child will spend time with each parent.
When parents do not live together a parenting plan can be used to outline when the children will be with each parent, how decisions about the children will be made and how other aspects of parenting, such as information sharing and communication, will be handled.
Changing a Parenting or Contact Order
Sometimes circumstances change and one or both parents may want to change the parenting arrangement. They can include making a change to an order or agreement that gives others, such as grandparents, time with a child.
Enforcing Parenting Arrangements
Sometimes a parent may not follow the arrangements set out in a parenting agreement or a parenting order. Our family laws provide some tools to assist parents in this situation.
Parenting After Separation or Divorce
Even when parents are no longer in a relationship they both continue to have rights and responsibilities regarding their children. Information about children’s reactions to separation and divorce, what children need at this time and the factors that help children do well in their new situation can help parents make plans that put the children first.
Frequently asked questions and answers.