In Alberta, both parents have a right to a relationship with their children, and children have a right to a relationship with their parents. This is true whether parents were married, adult interdependent partners, or unmarried when they had those children.
Navigating the best interests of the children can be difficult after a separation. Here are some guidelines to make co-parenting easier and more intuitive, as well as some information about what the law has to say about parenting after separation in Alberta.
Is Parenting After Separation Mandatory in Alberta?
Yes and no.
Unless one parent has been proven to be an abusive, neglectful, or clear and present danger to their children in other ways, both parents have the right to time with their children.
The courts will enforce that right. If your separation agreement or divorce decree says that the ex gets 30% parenting time then you have to offer the ex 30% parenting time.
The ex can choose to opt-out of their parenting time and it is very little the courts can do to make them take it. Forcing a parent to start parenting would in fact be contrary to the best interests of most children, so courts simply do not get involved when some parents check out. It’s unfortunate for the children who could have had relationships with those parents, but it’s ultimately safer for them as well.
If your ex does want their parenting time then you must give it to them. Remember that visitation is court-ordered, and if you fail to comply with a visitation agreement then you are in contempt of court.
What Types of Custody Arrangements Are Available?
The first type is sole custody, and it’s the rarest. This means the child primarily lives with one parent, and that parent has the full legal right to make decisions for that child without consulting the other parent. The other parent usually still has parenting time, even if that time is supervised. When parenting time is supervised it is generally done with the help of a hired, trained third party. Sole custody arrangements usually only happen in cases where the other parent is a proven danger to the child.
In some cases, a parent might have sole physical custody over a child while both parents maintain joint legal custody; that is, the child is with one parent most of the time, but both parents still have a legal right to make decisions or the child.
Joint physical custody, or shared custody, is the most common arrangement. This is an arrangement where each parent has the child at least 40% of the time, and each parent has the legal right to make decisions for that child. Parents should generally consult with one another about educational, medical, and religious decisions. Most of the time, joint custody is the arrangement the court’s favor and the one you should plan on having when attempting to negotiate a divorce settlement.
Split custody happens in cases where there are multiple children. One parent lives with one child most of the time while the other parent lives with the other child most of the time. While Alberta courts tend to prefer to keep the kids together, there are reasons why split custody might make sense. Sometimes children express a preference about which parent they’d like to live with. Sometimes a parent lives closer to academic or special programs the child might be involved with. Either each parent will still spend some time with the children they don’t live with.
How Do You be a Good Parent After Separation?
Put your child first. Pay your child support. Take your agreed-upon parenting time. When the child needs to be brought back to the other parent, do it on time. Make sure to bring the child back to the other parent with clean clothes, and all the toys they left with.
Don’t involve your child in conversations about arrangements you’re making, and don’t badmouth the other parent. Think about using technological tools such as Google calendar to keep everyone informed and on the same page about the schedule.
Do not question your child about your co-parent’s activities. It’s not their job to spy for you.
There are dozens of other ways you can be a good co-parent after separation, and it’s worthwhile to research them.
Here are a few resources to get you started.
- Children in the Middle, a site about co-parenting.
- The Parenting After Separation Seminar, a free course offered by the Alberta courts.
- A Co-Parenting Communication Guide
- The WeParent Co-Parenting App
- The Our Family Wizard App
Creating a good, workable parenting time plan and sticking to it is one of the best ways that you can support your children through your divorce.
How Much Parenting Time is Either Parent Entitled to?
The amount of parenting time each parent is entitled to will be outlined in your divorce decree or separation agreement. Every effective agreement will have the entire plan laid out in writing. It should be unambiguous and easy to follow and understand so that both parents understand what their rights and responsibilities are vis a vis time with the children.
What Happens if a Parent isn’t Complying With a Parenting Time Order in Alberta?
Failing to comply with the order means you’re taking an action in contempt of the court, and you can be held legally accountable for this action. The parent who is in compliance can take the parent who is out of compliance back to court, where the judge will enforce the parenting time order.
Need Help With Your Parenting Arrangements?
A solid custody arrangement and parenting time plan should be part of your divorce settlement or separation agreement. Getting it done right the first time prevents problems in the future.
Reach out to our team to get support for your divorce case. We’ll help you ensure that any eventual agreement is in the best interests of your children. Our decades of experience will ensure that you get a realistic parenting plan that you can live with.