CUSTODY & parenting time
The terms "Custody" and "Parenting Time" during separation or divorce are often confused, but in Nova Scotia law they are two distinct concepts. Custody is about legal decision-making authority. Parenting Time is about the day to day care of children. Often parents have joint custody, which means joint decision making on big decisions about the medical, educational and religious aspects of a child’s life even though the children live primarily with just one parent. A clear parenting plan can help families smooth the transition resulting from a separation.
WE CAN HELP.
If you are the Halifax area and need help understanding your legal rights or negotiating custody or parenting time with your children’s other parent, visiting a lawyer is an excellent place to start. The law in Nova Scotia can be different that in other parts of the country and especially the United States. Often people end up genuinely mistaken in understanding their rights if their information comes from TV or Google.
Our law firm in Tantallon offers an ‘Issue Review Consult’ where you’ll have an opportunity to sit down with a family lawyer and fully explain your situation. The lawyer will give you their opinion on what your options are, including their best guess on possible outcomes and costs. It’s a no obligation consult and often clients leave with a homework list of steps they can take on their own without further involvement from the lawyer. The cost is a fixed fee of $100+tax.
Joint Custody is the most common arrangement for families in Nova Scotia. It is also known as shared decision making. Here parenting decisions about major child rearing decisions including medical, educational, spiritual, and moral upbringing of their children are made by consensus. If parents cannot agree they may have to defer to a third-party expert such as a doctor in the case of making decisions about medical treatment.
Sole custody arrangements are less common. In cases of abuse, or where one parent is unable to make good parenting decisions, or if they are totally uninvolved with their children, then sole custody can be awarded.
Finally, a legal term that means what you think it does. In Nova Scotia, Parenting time is usually scheduled so that young children do not have to go more than a few days without seeing both parents. As children get older, they can go for longer periods of time. A one week on, one week off schedule is common when children are teenagers. The parent who has care of the child is responsible for all the day to day parenting tasks.
In cases where there is a high level of conflict, or a history of violence, the transfer of children between parents may be supervised by a third party or done in a public place. In more extreme cases, a parent may require supervision in order to spend time with their children.
WHAT IS A 'PARENTING PLAN'?
A 'Parenting Plan' is the written document that formally outlines the details of Access and Parenting Time. Developing a good parenting plan can be hard work. Aside from the big question about where everyone will live, there are a lot of details to work out. How will you handle holidays and special occasions, are there people you do not want to be around your children, will you need permission to take the kids camping for a week in the summer? These decisions will have a lasting impact on everyone so putting in the effort to get a solid plan in place is important. In Nova Scotia plans can be modified if both parents agree (and the court if there was an order), or if there is a material change in circumstances. However, changing a Parenting Plan though the Nova Scotia courts is often not an easy thing to do, so getting it right the first time is a worthwhile goal. Even if you and the other parent put together a document, it's highly advisable to have a lawyer review it for you to ensure your children's rights are protected.
DRAFTING A PARENTING PLAN
As lawyers, one of the common mistakes we see people make when they come up with a ‘Do It Yourself’ Parenting Plan is that they fail to adequately consider details and the ‘What Ifs’ of the future. Saying ‘alternating weekends’ and ‘one week in the summer’ is good. But who gets to pick which week? Who is responsible for picking up and dropping off the children from out of town extracurricular activities that the children are not enrolled in yet.
If you are not sure where should you start, or if you already have a Parenting Plan and want to see if you missed anything, our family lawyers can help you. We offer an Issue Review Consult, which is a no obligation, fixed fee ($100+HST) meeting where you can review your situation, or draft parenting plan, with a family lawyer for advice as to what your rights and options are to move forward.
If you aren’t in a position to see a lawyer, or if you want to do your homework before meeting your lawyer, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice has a guide, a toolkit and a checklist to help you get started.
"BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD"
Parenting decisions are among the most important and contentious part of legal separations in Nova Scotia. You may have heard of “best interests of the child” and wondered what does that actually mean? “Best interests of the child” is the guiding principle for all family law court decisions about custody and access in Nova Scotia.
Every family is different, and each case will be decided based on its unique circumstances but decisions from previous cases have given family law lawyers a list (in no particular order) of just some of the factors that a judge can consider when making the determination of what exactly is in the best interests of a child:
the physical environment at either parent's home;
matters of discipline;
the wishes of the children – this factor is given more weight as the children get older;
religious and spiritual guidance;
time availability of a parent for a child;
cultural development of a child;
support of an extended family;
willingness of a parent to facilitate contact with the other parent
financial consequences of custody;
How Much Does It Cost for Separation Agreement with a Custody and Parenting Plan?
It is difficult to predict the costs of resolving a custody dispute in Nova Scotia because it depends on so many variables. The most effective way to save money is to work on a negotiated settlement instead of going to court. Litigation can be very time consuming and expensive.
If you’ve separated from your spouse and have worked out all the terms, our family law lawyers can draft a legally binding Separation Agreement that dots all the ‘I’s’ and crosses all the ‘T’s’ under the laws of Nova Scotia for a flat rate of $750+HST plus our office disbursements.
If you are still working on ironing out the terms, or if it turns out you and your Ex are less in agreement on the details than you though you were, we charge at an hourly rate. Fees are always explicitly discussed upfront so you don’t end up with a run-away bill.
INTERIM AND FINAL ORDERS
Family disputes involving custody, child support and parenting time in Nova Scotia can be complicated and take many months or even years before they are resolved. However, even while a trial is being planned, Nova Scotia courts can issue temporary orders for custody, care, child support, possession of the home, and other pressing issues. These stay in place until a final order is in place so even though they are 'temporary' they can last for months. It is always a good idea to seek legal advice before attempting to go before the court on your own.
Grandparents can ask a Nova Scotia court to grant them visiting time with their grandchildren. When parents and their adult children become estranged, grandchildren suffer as well when they are cut-off from loving relationships with grandparents. In exceptional circumstances, a grandparent can even be awarded joint or sole custody of the children. Again, the best interests of the child guides the court.