When parents separate or divorce, one of the biggest questions is: what will happen with the children? What plans should be made, and how do we make them? In brief, there are different types of parenting arrangements that are legally recognized in Nova Scotia:
Joint Decision Making:
Joint decision making (previously known as ‘joint-custody’), means that both parents will be equally responsible for making the major decisions in the child’s life, such as medical, educational, and religious decisions. Joint decision making is the most common form of parenting arrangement in Nova Scotia.
When joint decision making is agreed to by parents, or ordered by the court, it is not dependent on a specific parenting time schedule. In other words, if parents have joint decision making, it does not matter whether one parent has more time with the child than the other. Legally, both are equally responsible for all major decisions in the child’s life, and no one parent can unilaterally decide any major decision without the consent of the other. If joint decision making parents cannot agree on a major decision concerning the child, then they must seek the help of a mediator, lawyer(s) or ultimately, the court.
Final Decision Making:
Final decision making, (previously known as ‘sole custody’), means that one parent is legally responsible for the major decisions in the child’s life. Final decision making arrangements are less common in Nova Scotia but may be appropriate in certain circumstances.
Terms for an agreement or court order on final decision making will often have wording to the effect of, ‘parents must consult each other on all major decisions, but in case of an impasse (meaning when it is impossible to come to an agreement) the parent with final decision making authority will make the final decision.’
Shared parenting (previously known as ‘shared custody’) is when each parent has the child with them for more than 40% of the time in a year. Shared parenting is often associated with joint decision making but, as previously discussed, they are not the same thing. Shared parenting is about time, joint decision making is about decision making. Shared parenting also impacts child support determinants.
Split parenting (previously known as ‘split custody’) is one of the least common types of parenting arrangements in Nova Scotia, but can be appropriate for some families. Split parenting happens when there is an agreement or court order between parents concerning two or more children, where at least one child will live the majority of the time (i.e. over 60%) with one parent, and the other child (or children, as the case may be) will live the majority of the time with the other parent (again over 60%).
Like shared parenting, split parenting affects child support determinations. It does not determine, in and of itself, who may make major decisions about the children.
Primary care indicates that a child lives primarily (i.e. more than 60% of the time) with one parent. Primary care, like shared and split parenting, is indicative of time spent with a child, not decision making. A court order or parenting agreement could state that the parents have joint decisions making, and one parent has primary care. Alternatively, an order or agreement could also state that a parent has primary care, with final decision making to that same, or to the other parent. It all depends on the circumstances.
The guiding principle in family law when there are children involved is: what is in the best interest of the child? That is the question that all parents must bear in mind when navigating parenting arrangements. The ‘best interest of the child’ is also the guiding principle for courts and legal professionals who work in family law.
Joint decision making, with shared parenting, can often be held up as the ‘ideal,’ but such arrangements may not necessarily work for everyone. Positive communication and cooperation is the key to any parenting arrangement. While it is understandable that everything may not be perfect between two separating or divorcing parents, it is important to have an honest and realistic understanding of where you are at in the process. Can you communicate civilly with the other parent? If the answer is yes, then co-parenting, in any of the above situations, will likely work. If the answer is no, alternative options may need to be sought.
Each of these scenarios, as well as a host of other issues that arise upon separation and divorce, can be challenging to understand and should always be approached with the assistance of a legal professional. Our mediators and lawyers at Teryl Scott Lawyers Inc. would be pleased to have a consultation with you so that we can help.
To find out more about parenting arrangements, you can read the full copy of the Nova Scotia “Parenting and Support Act”
This blog is meant for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for legal advice.
About the Author
This article was written by Tandiwe Nyajeka, one of our family lawyers. To learn more about Tandiwe, please visit our about us page. To learn more about our services in family law, please visit our family law page.
As one gets older, they may start to think about the one thing we all have in common, that our time here will eventually come to an end. This time is made easier if you have specific documents in place. This is called your estate plan in Nova Scotia.