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Custody and access are emotionally loaded terms. Custody has to do with who makes major decisions for a child, such as education, religion and health care. Think of custody as guardianship. Access has to do with the amount of time parents spend with their children. Access is parenting time.
Generally, the best custody and access arrangements – and the ones which the parties tend to be most committed to – are agreed to between the parents.
Where parents cannot agree and Courts are asked to make custody and/or access orders, their only consideration is the best interests of the child having regard to the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of the child.
Generally, there are three different custody models: joint/shared, split or sole custody. Which is best suited to a particular family depends, in large measure, on the way in which the parents interact with one another.
Joint/Shared Custody: With joint custody, both parents continue to be involved in the major decisions of their child’s life. One parent will usually be vested with day-to-day care and control of the child on the understanding that both parents share an equal role as far as major decisions are concerned. Shared Custody is a variant of joint custody in which the child lives with both parents roughly the same amount of time with day-to-day care and control of the child vested in the parent with whom the child is living at a particular time.
Where parents are prepared to set their differences aside and interact in an open, respectful manner with a view to jointly
Split Custody: Split custody arises where there is more than one child and one or more of them live with each of the parents, who are then responsible for the care of the child/children in their custody.
Sole Custody: With sole custody, one of the parents is responsible for the major decisions affecting the child’s life. Typically, the non-custodial parent will still have access to the child. Sole custody may be the most viable remedy in high conflict situations, particularly, where there has been a history of neglect or abuse.
Even where parents do not have custody of their children, they are, but in the most exceptional circumstances, entitled to have access: to spend time with the child and to receive information about the child’s education, health and well-being. The right to access may extend beyond the parents to family members such as grandparents.
As a starting point, the law recognizes that children should have as much contact with each of their parents as is consistent with the best interests of the children.
Custody and access arrangements should be recorded in a legally enforceable written agreement or a Court order. Parties to an agreement or those subject to a Court Order are obligated to comply with the terms until the parties mutually agree to change the terms or a Court orders a change.
Let Sorley & Still Help You: Sorley & Still’s lawyers can help you determine what custody and access arrangement is best for your children and what approach ought to be taken to ensure that it is implemented.