When parents separate, they must decide on where the children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent and how important decisions for them are to be made.
If the parents can work out all the arrangements related to the children together, they can then incorporate them into a document called a parenting plan. Parenting plans often form part of a separation agreement.
While many separating parents are able to agree on a parenting plan, if they are unable to agree they may have to ask a court to decide what is in the best interests of the children. In order to help decide what is best for the children, the court may ask for an assessment by a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.
There is often a lot of confusion when it comes to the terminology associated with child related issues. It is therefore important to understand what each term means:
This is the term used to describe how major decisions will be made about a child after parents separate. The two most common types of custody are:
Custody is not about where the child lives, although in sole custody situations a child will usually live with the parent with sole custody and spends regular time with the other parent. Joint custody does not necessarily mean equal time.
A parent will almost always have the right to spend time with his or her child, regardless of the custody arrangement. This is referred to as access. The access arrangements usually include such things as the days on which access is to take place and the times and places for dropping off and picking up the child. The level of conflict between the parents often determines how detailed the access arrangements need to be. In many cases, a parent with access will also have the right to ask for and to be given information about their child's health, education, and well-being from the other parent, schools, summer camps and hospitals.
When there are serious safety concerns for a child, access visits with the child may need to be supervised. Examples of when supervised access may be required include instances where the parent has a drug or substance abuse problem or has abused the child in the past. The supervision is usually provided by a third party. This could be a professional, such as a social worker, or sometimes a friend or relative.
It is important to note that access and child support are separate issues. In most cases, the amount a parent must pay in child support does not depend upon the amount of access to the child they receive. Access to a child also cannot be restricted because child support is not being paid.