Making plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce

Glossary

These definitions may help you understand legal terms related to parenting. They are not legal definitions. For a legal definition of these terms, you may wish to consult a lawyer.

access
means a person is entitled to spend time with the child. Unless the court orders otherwise, under the Divorce Act, a parent with access is also entitled to ask for and be given information about the health, education and welfare of the child.
agreement
means that you and the other parent come to a common understanding about your parenting arrangement. You can make this agreement legally binding, which means you are both required to follow the agreement. You can also have the agreement included in a consent order.
arbitration
means both parents agree that they will allow another neutral person—the arbitrator—to decide their legal issues related to parenting. The arbitrator acts like a judge.
assessment
means that a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist gathers information about family members to provide to the judge. The assessment is a professional evaluation about the best interests of the children. The assessor may speak with the children to find out their views and may see how your children interact with each of the parents, depending on the type of assessment.
best interests of the child
Where parenting arrangements are made under the Divorce Act, they must be in the best interests of the child. This means an arrangement that will best encourage the child's development, happiness and success. There are many factors to consider in determining the child's best interests, such as
  • the age and stage of development of the child
  • any special needs the child may have
  • the child's relationship with each parent
  • the child's relationship with siblings, grandparents and other extended family
  • care arrangements before the separation
  • the child's wishes
  • each parent's parenting abilities
  • the ability of the parents to cooperate and communicate about parenting issues
  • the child's cultural, linguistic and religious upbringing
  • issues that may affect the child's safety and either parent's parenting abilities such as family violence, substance abuse, or serious mental health issues
blended family
means a family with two parents who have children from different relationships, and may include a child of the current relationship.
counsellor
means a person who is trained to provide advice or guidance on personal issues, such as parenting after separation or divorce. Counsellors may have different backgrounds such as social work or psychology.
consent order
means that both parents agree on certain issues, and a judge will make an order based on the agreement. court order means a decision by a judge that is written down. Parents must follow what the court order says. Court orders can be changed by going back to the judge and asking for a change, but only if there is a good reason.
co-parenting relationship
means a relationship between parents who are separated or divorced, where the focus of the relationship is what is best for the children. There are many types of co-parenting relationships.
collaborative law
means both parents, their lawyers and potentially other professionals, agree to work cooperatively to come to an agreement. During the collaborative process, both parents agree not to bring any court applications. There is an incentive to come to an agreement since if the collaborative process does not result in an agreement, the parents' lawyers cannot represent them in court, and both parents would have to hire new lawyers.
custody
means both the parenting schedule for a child, and how decisions about the child will be made. When parents divorce, there are different types of custody: sole custody, joint custody, shared custody and split custody.
dispute resolution
means various ways of resolving disputes between individuals. In the family law context, there are many types of dispute resolution: negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, arbitration, going to court.
Divorce Act
is the federal law that sets out the rules for legally ending a marriage.
family justice services and programs
means programs or services intended to assist families in dealing with separation and divorce. Examples include: mediation, parent information programs, supervised access programs, and maintenance enforcement programs.
family violence
means abuse against children or adults in a family. The abuse can be physical, sexual, financial or psychological. Neglect can also be a form of family violence.
Federal Child Support Guidelines
are the regulations under the Divorce Act that apply when setting child support amounts. The guidelines consist of a set of rules and tables. The guidelines are the law.
Federal Child Support Tables
are part of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. They show the basic amount of child support based on income. There is a separate table for each province and territory to reflect different tax rates between provinces and territories.
joint custody
means that both parents have legal custody of the child and make major decisions about the child together.
mediation
means a process in which a neutral third party helps parents come to an agreement about issues related to separation and divorce, such as their parenting arrangement. Mediators are not marriage counsellors.
negotiation
means discussions to try and come up with a compromise or agreement about parenting issues. Parents may negotiate themselves, or they may negotiate with the assistance of their lawyers.
parenting arrangements
means the arrangements parents make for the care of their children after a separation or divorce. This includes arrangements about where the children will live, and who will be responsible for making major decisions about issues such as where the children will go to school, their religious education, their medical care, their after school activities and so on. Parenting arrangements are referred to as "custody" and "access" in the Divorce Act.
parenting coach
means a person who helps parents adopt new strategies, ideas and attitudes to parenting. Parenting coaches focus on the future and help parents adopt problem-solving skills.
parenting plan
is a written document that outlines how parents will raise their children after separation or divorce.
post-traumatic stress disorder
is a disorder triggered by a victim reliving a terrifying experience in which they were threatened with, or suffered, physical, mental or emotional harm. The most common symptoms are
  • flashbacks, in which you re-live the terrifying experience
  • nightmares
  • depression
  • feelings of anger or irritability
sole custody
means that one parent makes the major decisions about matters such as the child's education, religion and health care. Generally, the child will live primarily with this person.
shared custody
means that a child lives at least forty percent of the time with each parent. This term is normally used in calculating child support.
split custody
is an arrangement where
  • one or more children live with one parent more than 60 percent of the time in the year, and
  • one or more children live with the other parent more than 60 percent of the time in the year.
This term is normally used in calculating child support.
step-family
means a family where at least one of the parents has a child from a previous relationship.
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