When parents separate, often one of their biggest concerns is: What will happen to our children? There are so many questions – Which parent will my children live with? Will I only get to see my children on weekends?
The term “access” means the amount of time that your child or children are spending with each parent. It is the time where the children are considered to be in the “care and control” of one parent. In some cases, the children can spend equal time with both parents. Sometimes, this is not possible.
Often, I like to refer to “access” as “parenting time”, especially if the parents have a joint custody or shared custody arrangement. This way, neither parent feels like a “weekend” parent or a babysitter, and it acknowledges that what each parent is doing during that time is building a relationship with their children and actually parenting as an individual parent instead of a couple.
Here are some of the interesting questions people have asked me about the issue of access with their children:
What is a “normal” access schedule for parents and their children?
Interestingly, there is no “normal” access schedule – the goal is to figure out the best schedule for your children. For some families, the children reside primarily with one parent and see their other parent one evening every week (whether for dinner or an overnight visit) and on alternate weekends – sometimes with an extra evening visit in the week that the parent will not see their children on the weekend. Some parents live close to each other, so it possible for the children to spend one week at a time with each parent, or two days with one parent, two days with another parent and alternating weekends.
I have heard of some creative arrangements as well – in one case the parents lived in adjoining buildings and the child went back and forth between each parent’s home every night. In another case, the father lived in Oakville and the mother lived in Barrie. The children resided primarily with mother in Barrie and the father got to see the children most weekends, and had extended parenting time during the summers and on holidays.
My ex-spouse contacted me yesterday to let me know that he was invited to a family wedding in two months, and the children have also been invited. The weekend of the wedding is MY weekend with the children. Do I have to let them go to the wedding?
There will come a day where you will be in the exact same situation, and your ex-spouse will likely respond in the same way that you choose to respond today. Your children benefit from being involved in special events and occasions with family, and they should be part of these experiences even though you have no involvement with their “other family”. Keeping your children’s best interests in mind are what being a parent is all about. If it really bothers you, you can arrange for a “make-up” weekend in lieu of the wedding weekend. Or you could simply smile and know that they owe you one.
I was reading (insert popular self-help title here). I think my spouse has a serious personality or psychological disorder. Can I deny my spouse access to the children?
Sometimes, my clients tell me that their spouse/ex-spouse is “bipolar”, is “depressed” or is “crazy” and that they do not want them near the children. Your likely unqualified diagnosis that the other parent has a personality or psychological disorder will probably not sway a Judge that the other parent’s access time with your children should be denied. However, if there are genuine concerns about the other parent’s behaviours that directly relate to their parenting abilities, this should certainly be addressed with a Judge.
If the other parent has been diagnosed by a medical professional with a personality or psychological disorder, this does not mean that this parent will be denied access. If the other parent is managing their disorder through medication, therapy or other professionally prescribed treatment and is able to parent the children and function effectively, then there is no reason why the parent should not be able to have meaningful parenting time with their children.
In the case of a lesbian couple: My wife and I recently separated. We have two children together, and I carried them both. Does this mean that the children will live with me most of the time?
Not necessarily. As with the separation of any two parents, a Judge will consider a parenting schedule based on what is in the children’s best interests, and not whether one parent actually gave birth to them.
The issue of access to children is very fact-specific. Try not to compare the outcome of an access arrangement in your case to another family’s situation because there are MANY factors that come into play when deciding where the children should live and how much time the children will spend with each parent. If you have specific questions about access and parenting time, I welcome you to contact me at 416.342.1076 or via email at [email protected].
“The information in this article is not intended as legal advice, and should not be considered as such. Family law varies from province to province and the outcome of your situation may also vary depending on the facts of your case. It is recommended that you seek the advice of a lawyer with respect to your family law matter. This article is for educational purposes only.”