What are the Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements in Calgary Alberta

Child custody arrangements are one of the most important and challenging elements to manage during a divorce or separation in Alberta.

The best interests of the child are paramount when deciding how parents must make decisions for and share time with their children.

Alberta’s Family Law Act allows for several types of parenting arrangements for divorced or separated parents, depending on the family circumstances and relationships.

Parents are legally required to make a parenting plan that covers the key aspects of child custody, i.e., who makes decisions, how access is arranged, and when each parent spends time with the child.

Request A Consultation

What does custody mean in Alberta?

Parents have a legal responsibility to provide for their children until they reach the age of majority, which is 18 in Alberta. This applies whether the parents are married or unmarried—and whether or not they cohabit.

The term “custody” traditionally refers to several different elements of parenting:

  • Decision-making responsibilities: who makes the key decisions in the child’s life, such as education, health, religious upbringing, etc.
  • Parenting time: how long a child spends with each parent.
  • Schedule and living arrangements: who the child lives with and how access for the other parent is arranged.

Since changes were made to Alberta’s family laws courts make “parenting orders” rather than “custody agreements” or “custody arrangements.” By law, separated parents must formulate parenting plans even if no formal divorce proceedings have started.

These parenting plans must consider the elements outlined above and may also specify who will be allowed to spend time with the children besides the parents, e.g., the grandparents.

When the courts review plans, they must consider the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of the children first and foremost. This means considering the following:

  • The child’s needs according to their age and development
  • The child’s relationship with each spouse, siblings, grandparents, and other key people in the child’s life
  • The willingness of each spouse to support the child’s relationship with the other spouse
  • The history of how each spouse has cared for the child
  • The child’s preferences (if age and maturity are sufficient)
  • The child’s cultural, linguistic, religious, and spiritual upbringing and heritage
  • Plans for the child’s care
  • The ability of each person to care for and meet the needs of the child
  • The ability of each person to communicate and cooperate with each other
  • Whether there has been any family violence or civil/criminal proceeding that may affect the child’s well-being

Types of child custody in Alberta

Traditionally, the four distinct types of custody in Alberta are as follows:

Joint legal custody: where both parents make decisions about the children together, but the amount of time spent with the child may vary between parents.

Shared custody: where parents split time with the children equally (parents usually have joint legal custody too).

Split custody: a less common scenario where one or more children live mostly with one parent and other children live mostly with the other parent (usually with joint legal custody).

Sole custody: where one parent provides a home for the child and has the right to make all major decisions. The non-custodial parent usually has access to the child (unless parental rights are removed, which is rare).

What is considered “parenting time” in Alberta?

During “parenting time,” the parent who looks after the child assumes primary decision-making responsibilities for anything that affects the child. The other parent retains the right to inquire about the health, education, and welfare of the child.

Parenting time should be scheduled according to the parenting plan. These schedules may be fixed, with specific days and times for visits, or flexible depending on the family’s preferences.

Supervised parenting time

The standard parenting arrangement is between the parents and the children only. In some cases, however, the Alberta courts may order parenting visits with a supervisor present.

This arrangement may apply in cases where the child is under the supervision of a social worker or another relative due to concern over his/her well-being because of previous issues in the parent-child relationship.

Sometimes, for instance, unstable parenting environments can be caused by mental health problems, substance abuse or financial instability.

The supervised parenting time arrangement is usually temporary until the parent demonstrates the ability to safely care for the child.

In exceedingly rare cases, no parenting time is ordered by the court due to serious concerns about abuse or neglect of the child—and if supervised parenting time is not an option.

Learn More Options for Resolving Custody Outside of Court in Alberta

Request A Consultation

Types of decision-making responsibilities in Alberta

Decision-making responsibilities are sometimes referred to as “legal custody” and, in most cases, are shared equally between parents in Alberta. When parents are communicative and cooperative and put the best interests of the child first, this can work well and is the preferred option of the courts.

However, circumstances sometimes mean that joint decision-making responsibilities are not possible. In such cases, the court may order one of the following:

  • Split decision-making responsibility: where one parent assumes the decision-making responsibility for one or more children and the other parent does so for the other child(ren). This may be appropriate if one child lives with one parent and another child lives with the other parent, for instance.
  • Sole decision-making responsibility: where only one of the parents has the right to make final decisions about the child’s upbringing, though the other parent may provide input and should usually be informed of key decisions.

Other arrangements for decision-making are possible according to the needs of each family, which will be carefully assessed before any major decisions are made by the courts.

Can parenting agreements be modified in Alberta?

If elements of the existing parenting agreement do not work well for the child (or for the parents), the agreement can be modified for a more suitable arrangement.

No petition to the court is necessary if both parents agree on the changes and the best interests of the child are maintained.

Child custody lawyers in Alberta

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

Request A Consultation