Parenting When You Separate: Custody, Access, and Support of Children

When parents of minor children make a decision to separate, they need to come to an arrangement respecting custody that meets the best interests of the children

  • Where will our child live?
  • How much time will each of us spend with our child?
  • How will we make major decisions about how to care for and raise our child?
  • What role will each of us have in caring for our child?

Legal terms such as Custody, Access and Support can be confusing but it is important to know the differences of each:


Custody refers to decision making only. It is not about which parent the child lives with or how much time a child spends with each parent. For example, even if only one parent has sole custody, the child might live equal time with each parent. Or the child might live primarily with one parent, but both parents have joint custody and share the decision-making.

Sole Custody

– One parent makes all of the important decisions about the child, such as decisions regarding education, religion and medical treatment. It generally signifies that the other parent is excluded from participating in the ultimate decision-making for the child.

Joint Custody

– Both parents must agree on major decisions that affect their child. One parent cannot decide these things without the agreement of the other. If they disagree, they must find a way to resolve it.Sometimes parents with joint custody divide up the decision-making. For example, one parent may make medical decisions, while the other makes educational decisions.


There are different degrees of access, which refers to the time spent with the children.

Reasonable Access

– If the parents are able to co-operate, the access arrangements can be left open and flexible instead of having a detailed schedule.  This allows the parents the flexibility of changing the schedule in the event of day to day events.

Fixed Access

– A schedule is agreed upon whereby the child resides with the parents during specified times, ie. every other weekend and Wednesday evening between 5-9pm.  The schedule also lays out who the child will reside with during holidays, birthdays etc.

Supervised Access

– In some cases, if there has been a history of abuse, addiction or threats to take the children away, supervised access may be required. In this case, the other parent can only see the children under the supervision of a nominated party.

No Access

– this is in extreme cases where the children are not safe in seeing the other parent.

It is important to note that access and support are independent arrangements. A parent cannot stop paying support if they are denied access, and they also cannot elect not to see the children in an attempt to withhold support.

Child Support

Both parents have a financial obligation to support the children.  In Canada we have Federal Child Support Guidelines to help parents determine how much child support will be paid.  The guidelines are based on a number of factors including:

  • The number of children;
  • The residential arrangements for the children; and
  • The income of the parents.

There are also additional expenses based on special needs of the child such as:

  • Childcare;
  • Extended health benefits;
  • Educational requirements;
  • Extracurricular activities; and
  • Post-secondary education.

Due to the complexities in this process and the variables that must be taken into account when reaching a custody, access and support arrangement, it is recommended that you seek assistance in this process.

Often an amicable agreement can be reached with the assistance of a mediator.  Positive Solutions Divorce Services provide neutral party accredited mediators who are experienced in helping couples negotiate a parenting plan that meets the needs of all parties involved. We have one hour joint consultations to explain the mediation process, and the costs associated with your individual customized package.