Parenting & Child Custody in Alberta

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Often the most difficult aspect of separation (whether the parties are married or unmarried) is deciding where the children will live.  This is because parents are often afraid of losing quality time with their children, they may no longer trust the other parent, and there are significant financial implications associated with parenting. For example, the so-called “primary parent” receives child support from the other, and is entitled to the Canada Child (Tax) Benefit.  Together, these financial benefits may be considerable.

Parenting for married or divorced parents is decided under the Canada Divorce Act.  All other parents or guardians need to proceed under the Alberta Family Law Act.

There are two aspects to any parenting order: decision making and parenting time.

Decision Making – This refers to the rights and responsibilities that each parent has when it comes to making major decisions about their child’s wellbeing—for example, healthcare, education, and religion.

In Alberta, most parents share decision making when it comes to big questions, but are responsible for small day-to-day decisions, like what to eat and who to visit, on their parenting time.  In high-conflict cases, the court may prefer to give decision making power to one parent, while the other parent may have the right to information about their child.

In extremely high-conflict cases, where both parents are otherwise good caregivers, the courts may award “parallel parenting”, in which both parents exercise full decision making on their own time.

Parenting Time – This refers to the time that the children spend with each parent. Parenting time is usually exercised in person, however, in when parents live far apart, the court may award extra parenting time over the phone or video-chat.  There are two main parenting types of parenting schedules: primary parenting and shared parenting.

  1. Primary Parenting In this schedule, the child lives with one parent more than 60% of the time, while the other parent has parenting time less than 40% of the time. For example, if the child lives with mom, and stays with dad every second weekend, the mom is said to be the “primary parent”.  In this parenting arrangement, child support is paid to the primary parent.
  2. Shared Parenting – In this schedule, the child lives with each parent more than 40% of the time (roughly 50:50). For example, the parents exchange the children on a rotating week-on/week-off schedule, then this would be considered a shared parenting arrangement.  In this parenting arrangement, both parents typically pay each other child support, and the amounts are set off.

Once the general parenting arrangement is decided, parents will need to think about how they will divide holiday time (For example, Christmas Break or Summer Vacation).  In Alberta, parents typically share holidays equally—even in primary parenting arrangements.

Parents should also consider adding travel closes to their orders: can parents travel outside of Alberta or Canada?  How much notice should they give the other parent?  Do they need to provide any information to the other parent about the travel?  These are questions that your family lawyer will be able to help you with.

Best Interests of the Children

When making a parenting order, the court may only consider the children’s “best interests”.  Although this can mean just about anything, Section 16(3) of the Divorce Act lists some helpful factors, for example:

  • The child’s needs, given the child’s age and stage of development, such as the child’s need for stability.
  • The nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each spouses, each of the child’s siblings and grandparents and any other person who plays an important role in the child’s life.
  • Each spouse’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other spouse.
  • The history of care of the child.
  • The child’s view and preferences, giving due weight to the child’s age an maturity, unless they cannot be ascertained.
  • The child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including Indigenous upbringing and heritage.
  • Any plans for the child’s care.
  • The ability and willingness of each persona in respect of whom the order would apply to care for and meet the needs of the child.
  • The ability and willingness of each person in respect of whom the order would apply to communicate and cooperate, in particular with one another, on matters affecting the child.
  • Any family violence.
  • Any civil or criminal proceeding, order, condition or measure that is relevant to the safety, security and well-being of the child.

This is a broad list, and ultimately the court will consider any factor that it believes is relevant to the child’s best interests.

Sometimes, the court will order the parents to enlist the help of a “parenting expert” to better understand the child’s needs.  This is often done through something called a Practice Note 7 Intervention, wherein the parents hire a child psychologist who works with the family, and writes a report for the court.

Mobility Applications in Alberta

When one parent wants to relocate with the child such that the relocation will impact the other parent’s parenting time, that spouse will usually have to bring a mobility application—ie. they may need the court’s permission to move.  In this case, the court will consider not only whether the move is in the child’s best interests, but how the move will impact the other parent’s parenting time.

Contact an Alberta Family Lawyer Today

Parenting can be one of the most difficult issues for parents to resolve on their own.  This is where a family lawyer comes in.  A family lawyer will be able to give you objective, reasonable advice when you need it most.  Feel free to contact a lawyer or mediator at Morrison LLP at 587-758-1099 about your parenting question.  The first 30 minutes of the call is free.

Although we are based in Edmonton, our family & divorce lawyers—and practicing mediators—are proud to serve much of northern Alberta, including the following communities:

  • Edmonton & Area – Sherwood Park, Beaumont, Leduc, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain.
  • North – Athabasca, Morinville, Westlock, Gibbons, Barrhead, Redwater, Peace River, High Level, Fort McMurray.
  • West – Drayton Valley, Edson, Hinton, Whitecourt, Devon.
  • South – Camrose, Wetaskiwin, Millet, Calmar.
  • East – Vegreville, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Vermillion, Wainwright, Tofield.
Contact Morrison LLP Today