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Parenting Decisions – One Size Does Not Fit All

How will you make important decisions for your children after the breakdown of a relationship? Will yourself and your former partner be able to communicate to make decisions that are in the children’s best interest?


In family law, we most often refer to decision making power as ‘custody’, we can provide some important context and options regarding this concept:


According to Canada’s Divorce Act, which is applicable to couples who are or were married, custody “includes care, upbringing and any other incident of custody”.  It is generally interpreted as decision-making regarding education, medical care, mobility, religion, and extra-curricular activities.  In that way, it is very similar to the concept of Guardianship discussed in Alberta’s Family Law Act, which can apply to couples who were not married.


By contrast, terms like parenting, access, physical custody, or visitation refer to a child’s physical residence. Both parents can be equal decision makers, even when the child lives predominantly with only one parent.


Parenting and decision-making arrangements can be quite detailed. Some parenting orders specify that major decisions must be mutual, but that minor decisions are made by the parent physically caring for the child at the time the need to make a decision arises.  Other parenting orders give one parent the final say on decisions, but coming with that, is the duty to consult and inform the other parent prior to making the decision.


Many feel that custody is either all or nothing (where one parent has sole custody and the other has no decision making authority) or equally shared (where both parent share joint custody). There may be another option: “parallel parenting”.  This is where each parent has authority over different spheres or silos of decisions.  Parallel parenting can help avoid repeated returns to their lawyers, mediators/arbitrators or even litigation when parents with equal authority cannot find a way to communicate and come to a mutual agreement on a parenting issue.


If you would like to discuss the best options for the custody arrangements in your family or how our team of experienced family lawyers can help you with other parenting matters please feel free to contact us.