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Child custody: what it means and how to get it

There are many issues that may come up if you are navigating the process of divorce. Children are often the first and biggest concern. While there are implications specific to any given case that a lawyer may be able to guide you through, they can generally be encompassed in three larger points.

1. What is encompassed in “custody”?

Though “custody” is often used to mean “residency,” as in who the child will live with for the most part, it actually means “decision-making power.” This can encompass decisions ranging from where the child will go to school to if a child may leave town with the non-custodial parent for a vacation. Custody also encompasses medical decision-making power and will also have an impact on which partner pays or receives child support. “Access,” on the other hand, refers to how much time the child will actually spend with each parent.

There are three main types of custody: joint, sole and shared. Joint custody means that both partners will make decisions about the child together. Sole custody means that one parent makes the decisions for the child. Shared custody exists when children live with each parent at least 40 percent of the time.

2. Who will decide who gets custody?

The court will make the final decision. Both partners may engage the services of lawyers to help further their cases. The child may also be consulted, though the exact practice varies by province. In British Columbia, children are consulted through Custody and Access Reports gathered by Family Justice counsellors.

There is also currently a pilot project ongoing in Kelowna which provides a one-time report fairly early in proceedings, thereby providing some limited assistance to the children themselves by taking their wishes into account. This is similar to other provinces, in which the child may more directly provide their input.

3. How can I get sole custody?

There is no way to guarantee any certain outcome, but the court will take some items into account. Overall, the most important thing is the welfare of the child. This means an examination of the parent-child relationships, parenting abilities of the individuals involved (including both physical and mental health, schedules and the support systems available to each partner) and care arrangements prior to the divorce.

Divorce can be a complicated issue, and child custody is only one facet. An experienced attorney can porter help you understand the implications of your own situation more thoroughly.