So You’re Separating - What about the Children?
Children are innocent bystanders when a marriage or a relationship breaks down. It can be difficult for parents to transition to a “co-parenting” role, but it is critical that they do so, in a healthy and effective way. It is imperative that separating parents do not put any kind of pressure on their children, no matter what their age. Separation can be a very confusing and difficult time for children, who will take their cues from mom and dad.
In Canada, there is a strong presumption towards joint custody. This means that, regardless of where the children are living, both mom and dad are still the join decision-makers in their lives. The children may live with one parent full-time, or half time with each parent, or some combination, but mom and dad will still have what is considered joint custody. Primary parenting is the term used when mom or dad has the child full-time, and shared parenting is the term used when the parties share parenting generally equally.
The overriding principle that the courts use in determining parenting arrangements, or specific parenting issues, is the principle of the “best interests of the children”. Of course, this is a subjective principle, and most parents absolutely believe that what they want for their children are in their best interests, even when that parent’s position is at odds with the other parent’s position. Generally, the courts that the view that it is very important, and in the children’s best interest, to have a good, healthy relationship with both parents.
Sometimes, when parents cannot agree on specific parenting issues, rather than taking the issue to court they employ a parenting coordinator. This person is usually either a lawyer, psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker, and acts as a neutral third party to help the parents make decisions. This is a cost effective way of resolving small issues, as it is less expensive to hire one professional than for both parties to hire, or to utilize their lawyers. The parenting coordinator may even have arbitration powers, allowing him or her to make a decision in the event that the parents can’t agree.
In order to get a divorce in Alberta, you will need to take the Parenting After Separation course, or “PAS”. The PAS course is now offered online. The Family Justice Services website offers more information about the Parenting After Separation course, and other courses offered by courts.