2.6 Care of Children


It’s important to know what your legal rights and responsibilities are towards your children after separation and divorce.  You need to work out how the children will receive on-going care.

Before you make an agreement or start a court process, you should know the legal and financial aspects of your situation. It will also be helpful to start thinking about the decisions you’re going to face.

During a separation or divorce, children are often the biggest concern for couples. This section highlights your key rights and responsibilities regarding the care of your children. Its purpose is to give you a general understanding for you to be able to negotiate a settlement. If you are headed to court and want more information about specific laws, refer to Chapter 6.

Key Principle:

Parents are responsible for caring for their children, and must make parenting decisions that are in the best interests of the children.


Need to Know

FJC's Tip:

It is usually in the children’s best interest for them to spend time with both parents.

Courts tend to order arrangements where child care is shared by both parents.

Generally, as a parent, you are a guardian of your children and you are responsible for their care.  You may have heard the terms “custody,” “primary residence,” “parenting time,” “parenting arrangements,” etc. These are all terms used to describe how the children will be looked after and which parent will do what to care for the children. 

Your legal responsibilities as a parent could include making decisions about:

  • day-to-day care
  • health care
  • education
  • religious upbringing
  • extracurricular activities
  • where the child lives

The law does not specifically say how a child is to split their time with each parent or with whom they are to live.

The law allows parents to make arrangements that suit both of their needs. You could share the responsibilities equally or one of you may take on one or more of the responsibilities. However, the law states that all parenting decisions must be made in the best interests of the child. So as you’re trying to work out parenting decisions, always keep in mind that they must be in your child’s best interest.


Need to Do

You are going to need to make a lot of decisions on how to parent after your separation. You will need to come to an agreement about where and with whom the child will be living and when the child will have time with each parent. Since there is no law setting out exactly how the parents are to share the care of the child, you are free to come to an agreement that works best for your unique situation.

Here are some examples of ways to divide parenting time:

  • The child spends one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent
  • The child lives with one parent during the school year and the other during summer holidays and winter breaks
  • The child lives with one parent during the week but lives with the other parent on weekends

You should also set out which parent has what parenting responsibilities.  There are multiple ways to divide up these responsibilities.

For example, the decision about the child's extracurricular activities could be:

  • the sole responsibility of one of the parents only,
  • the responsibility of both and they must come to a mutual agreement on all decisions, or
  • the responsibility of both and can make decisions on their own

Once you come to a general agreement of how your parenting time is to be separated, it is important to consider the details of arranging it.  For example, at what time is the child to be picked up and dropped off? Where are these pickups and drop offs going to happen? If you’re alternating weekends, who has the first weekend? How are specific holidays to be spent? These are all questions that you should discuss with your former spouse before you finalize an agreement.

Take a moment to fill in the Decisions About Parenting Worksheet. This worksheet will help you think about your position on a lot of the major decisions you are going to need to make about raising your children. The time spent thinking about how you can parent together early on will save you time and frustration later, when you sit down to discuss these issues with the other parent.

In Chapter 5 we will take a detailed look at settlement agreements, this worksheet will come in handy then.