Understanding Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements in Alberta

Nobody plans on divorce when they marry but Alberta consistently ranks as one of the leading provinces in Canada for divorce rates.

Considering the needs of the children from the marriage and creating parenting plans and custody agreements are essential parts of the separation and divorce process. Protecting the rights of the children and clarifying the rights and responsibilities of both parents as they go their separate ways are paramount.

Skilled legal guidance from a family lawyer in Alberta can help you comprehensively cover all the main points in your parent plan or custody agreement.

Let us consider some of the basic requirements when creating these important documents.

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How can I be sure my parenting plan complies with Alberta law?

A parenting plan is part of a custody agreement, outlining how parents who no longer live together will raise dependent children. The plan must follow certain legal standards to be valid and approved by the Alberta courts.

Alberta’s Family Law Act is the principal legal framework that should guide the creation of your parenting plan. The Act outlines laws that protect the well-being of families and children after a divorce or separation and contains valuable information to help you write a legally enforceable parenting plan and custody agreement.

The key guiding principles are that the “child’s best interests” must come first and that both the mother and father should actively participate in the lives of their child unless this is not in the child’s best interests.

A parenting plan should consider the age of the child, his/her present needs, and how the plan might change as the child grows. It should include practical details and be written in plain language so that both parents are clear on their rights and obligations.

What factors determine “the child’s best interests”?

The “child’s best interests” are the central principle of a parenting plan or custody agreement.

The key criteria are defined by Alberta’s Family Law Act. Before you finalize details with your spouse, make sure that the agreement addresses how you meet each of the following considerations:

  • How the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional safety will be protected, including any special needs
  • Any history of family violence and the impact of this on the child and other family members
  • The child’s overall well-being
  • The quality of care and nurturing the child has received in the past
  • The child’s cultural, spiritual, religious, and linguistic upbringing
  • Any preferences the child has for custody, provided he/she is mature enough to express a meaningful opinion
  • The nature of the child’s existing relationships/bonds with the parents
  • The ability of each parent to provide care and basic needs to the child
  • Whether or not the parents can communicate effectively with each other and compromise on issues with the child

Any civil or criminal proceedings that may have an impact on the child

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What should a parenting plan and custody agreement include?

For the Alberta courts to approve a parenting plan/custody agreement, it should include the following:

  • A custody and access schedule demonstrating clearly how each parent will divide time with the child (including weekends, holidays, and vacations)
  • A statement detailing how each parent will share parenting responsibilities
  • A plan for resolving parenting/custody disputes or conflicts that may arise
  • Any other information relevant to the child’s best interests

If there are any other considerations about how you and the co-parent will serve the best interests of the child, include these details in your parenting plan and custody agreement to seek court approval.

Roles and responsibilities of guardians in Alberta

Under Alberta’s Family Law Act, guardians must take care of many responsibilities relating to the welfare of the children in their care.

They are expected to nurture the child’s emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. They are also expected to provide the necessities, such as food, medical care, shelter, and clothing.

Decision-making responsibilities include deciding about the child’s well-being, health, welfare, and daily care, the primary place of residence, and their educational, lingual, religious, and cultural upbringing. Guardians also need to decide who the child lives and associates with.

A guardian must also make medical and legal decisions in the best interests of the child, and appoint a person to make emergency decisions in case he or she is unable to do so.

Can parents let the Alberta court decide the custody arrangements?

Ideally, parents work on their parenting and custody arrangements together. They are legally required to cooperate on child-related matters. Any mutually agreed parenting plan will usually become a parenting order by the Court provided it meets certain legal requirements.

However, sometimes the parents cannot decide on custody and parenting matters even after attending mediation. Couples may lose sight of the child’s best interests, and the Alberta courts can be petitioned to intervene with a decision and a parenting/custody order.

Unfortunately, the courts may occasionally make judgements that are not in the child’s best interests because judges do not know the children and can only work off the information provided. It is generally preferable, therefore, for parents to collaborate on parenting and custody arrangements.

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Do unmarried fathers have the same rights as married fathers in Alberta?

Couples who cohabit and have children together are considered to be joint custodians of their children in Alberta—and indeed all of Canada— regardless of whether they are married. As such, under normal circumstances, they will need to jointly make custody and parenting agreements.

Generally, an unmarried parent who has the care and control of the child (usually but not always the mother) is considered to have sole custody of the child without requiring court intervention.

An unmarried father may need to prove paternity before claiming parental rights or child custody and having a say in how the child is raised.

If the couple is married, the spouses are presumed to be the parents of the child. A male is also generally presumed to be the father of a child if any of the following applies:

  • He married the mother after the birth of the child and has acknowledged that he is the father
  • He lived with the mother for one year, the child was born during that year, and he has acknowledged that he is the father
  • He lived with the mother for at least one year and separated less than 300 days before the child was born
  • He is registered as the father under a provincial Act at the joint request of himself and the mother
  • A court order states that he is the father

Parenting plan lawyers in Alberta

If you live in the Calgary & Airdrie area and need assistance with a parenting plan or custody agreement, the experienced lawyers at Jennings Family Law can help you. Book a case evaluation to discuss your situation.

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