Frequently Asked Questions About Custody & Parenting Arrangements

1. What do the words ‘custody’ and ‘access’ mean?

Custody is a general term describing who has the responsibility for a child’s care, who makes the decisions about the child’s upbringing and development, and where the children will live.  When a person has custody, this means they will make these decisions. Custody may be granted to more than one person. If custody is granted to more than one person, this means those with custody would make joint decisions about issues like the child’s education, medical and dental care, and religious upbringing.

Decision‑making can be described in agreements, parenting plans, or court orders as both parents having "joint custody" of the children, or one parent having "custody" of the children. Sometimes when one parent has custody, it can be described as "sole" or "full" custody, but the court does not impose this type of custody very often anymore.

Access, also called ‘parenting time,’ refers to the time the children spend with the parent or guardian that they do not live with. Access is the term used under the Federal Divorce Act.

Under the provincial Parenting and Support Act, the following terms are used in place of ‘access’:

  • Parenting time
  • Contact time
  • Interaction

These terms are explained below. This website will sometimes use the umbrella term ‘parenting arrangements’ to describe custody, access, parenting time, contact time, or interaction, or a combination of these terms.
 

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2. What does ‘best interests of the child’ mean?

This is the test that the court uses to make decisions about custody of and access with children, or parenting arrangements of any kind, where the children’s needs and well-being are always the most important factors. The judge must decide what is best for the children, not what is best for the parents.

Nova Scotia’s Parenting and Support Act (PSA) includes a list of factors that judges must consider when making decisions about the best interests of a child. Judges will consider all relevant circumstances – they are not limited to considering only the factors on the list.

The factors that judges must consider are:

“(a) the child’s physical, emotional, social and educational needs, including the child’s need for stability and safety, taking into account the child’s age and stage of development;

(b) each parent’s or guardian’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other parent or guardian;

(c) the history of care for the child, having regard to the child’s physical, emotional, social and educational needs;

(d) the plans proposed for the child’s care and upbringing, having regard to the child’s physical, emotional, social and educational needs;

(e) the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage;

(f) the child’s views and preferences, if the court considers it necessary and appropriate to [gather this information] given the child’s age and stage of development and if the views and preferences can reasonably be [gathered];

(g) the nature, strength and stability of the relationship between the child and each parent or guardian;

(h) the nature, strength and stability of the relationship between the child and each sibling, grandparent and other significant person in the child’s life;

(i) the ability of each parent, guardian or other person in respect of whom the order would apply to communicate and co-operate on issues affecting the child; and

(j) the impact of any family violence, abuse or intimidation, regardless of whether the child has been directly exposed, including any impact on

(i) the ability of the person causing the family violence, abuse or intimidation to care for and meet the needs of the child, and

(ii) the appropriateness of an arrangement that would require co-operation on issues affecting the child, including whether requiring such co-operation would threaten the safety or security of the child or of any other person.”

The following section of the PSA says what judges are to consider when determining the best interests of the child when a grandparent has made an application for contact time or interaction with the child:

(6A) In determining the best interests of the child on an application for contact time or interaction by a grandparent, the court shall also consider:

(a) when appropriate, the willingness of each parent or guardian to facilitate contact time or interaction between the child and the grandparent; and

(b) the necessity of making an order to facilitate contact time or intearction between the child and the grandparent.

 

 

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3. Does the court have to consider family violence when making decisions about parenting?

Yes, when the Parenting and Support Act is the law being applied. This Act contains a list of factors for determining the best interests of a child. This list says that judges must consider the impact of any family violence on the child(ren) when deciding what arrangements are in the child(ren)’s best interests. These factors must be considered, whether or not the child was directly exposed to the violence.

The Act states that when the court is determining the impact of any family violence, abuse or intimidation, they must consider:

“(a) the nature of the family violence, abuse or intimidation;

(b) how recently the family violence, abuse or intimidation occurred;

(c) the frequency of the family violence, abuse or intimidation;

(d) the harm caused to the child by the family violence, abuse or intimidation;

(e) any steps the person causing the family violence, abuse or intimidation has taken to prevent further family violence, abuse or intimidation from occurring; and

(f) all other matters the court considers relevant.”

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4. What is parenting time?

Parenting time is the time a child spends with a parent or guardian, under a court order or agreement. Each parent’s or guardian’s time with the children is called ‘parenting time’, even when the child lives most of the time with one parent. It is helpful to have a parenting schedule in place. 

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5. What is contact time?

Contact time is the time a child spends with someone other than a parent or guardian, under a court order or agreement. This may include grandparents, or other relatives.

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6. What is interaction?

Interaction means direct or indirect association with a child, outside of parenting time or contact time. Interaction includes communications with a child other than ‘in person’ time – like, for example:

  • phone calls, emails, or letters
  • sending gifts or cards
  • attending the child’s school activities or extracurricular activities
  • receiving copies of report cards or school photos
  • Skyping with the child

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7. What is split custody?

Split custody is when parents have two or more children together, and each parent has one or more of those children living with them for 60% of the time or more. For example, Jane and Michael have 2 children – Tim and Tom. Tim lives with Jane most of the time, and Tom lives with Michael most of the time. This is a split custody arrangement.

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8. What is shared custody?

Shared custody is when each parent has the child or children living with them for at least 40% of the time over the course of the year. For example, Sandy and Dale have 1 child, Billie. They have a week-on, week-off parenting schedule – Billie lives with Sandy for a week, then with Dale for the next week, and so on. This is a shared custody arrangement.

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9. Are shared custody and joint custody the same thing?

No, although they often go together. Shared custody deals with where the children are physically living. Joint custody indicates that the parents make major decisions about the children together. 

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10. How does our parenting arrangement affect our child support arrangements?

The Federal Child Support Guidelines are rules for calculating how much child support will be paid, and these Guidelines include tables that show how much the paying parent will pay every month. There are also Provincial Guidelines that mirror the Federal ones. The basic amount paid is called the table amount. It is based on the paying parent’s gross (before tax) yearly income, the province or territory where the paying parent is living, and the number of children they are paying support for. The table amounts are based on situations where the children live most of the time with one parent, and the other parent pays support.

In split or shared custody arrangements, child support arrangements can work differently – but, the Guidelines do not give an exact formula for how child support should work in shared custody arrangements. There may still be support paid by one parent to another, even with these custody arrangements.

In split custody situations, the Guidelines direct that child support is calculated by looking at what the table amount would be for each parent, to see if one parent would pay more than the other. For example, if Jane and Michael each have one child living with them full-time, the court may look at what Jane would pay Michael for one child based on her income, and what Michael would pay Jane for one child based on his income. If there is a difference in these amounts, it is the difference that may be paid as child support. This is called using a ‘set-off’ amount. 

If both parents' incomes, and therefore their table amounts, are about the same, there may not be any support ordered, but this will all depend on the particular facts of their case.

For shared custody arrangements, the increased cost of having a shared custody arrangement, and the condition, means and needs of both parents and their children, may also be considered.

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11. What is a ‘primary caregiver’?

Primary caregiver is a term that is often used in agreements and court orders; however, it is not one that is defined anywhere in the Parenting and Support Act or the Divorce Act. Sometimes, the term used is 'primary residence' or the phrase 'the children reside primarily with Y.'

This term is used to make the wording of an agreement or order easier to understand. It does not mean that the primary caregiver has any extra authority or decision-making power over the other parent.

It is often easiest to say that the child lives with one parent primarily, and then set out the detailed schedule for the child's time with the other parent.

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12. What is supervised access?

Supervised access is a term in a court order or parenting plan that means a child only spends time with the parent who has supervised access with another adult present. Supervised access is generally ordered in unusual situations where there is some risk to the safety of the child, for example, where there are addiction problems, risk of abduction, untreated mental health issues, or in situations where the parent does not have contact with the children often.

There are organizations in most areas of Nova Scotia that provide professional supervised access services. These organizations may also provide supervised exchange services. Supervised exchange is where the transfer of the child between parents for their visits is supervised, but the actual visit is not. This may be necessary when, for example, parents have an order preventing them from having contact with one another. For more about supervised access and exchange, click here.

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13. Which type of parenting arrangement is best in my situation?

That depends on your particular circumstances, and the needs and best interests of your child(ren). If you are unsure what is best in your situation, you should speak with a lawyer for advice.

Generally, flexible parenting arrangements will only work if both parents get along reasonably well, and are able to work out parenting arrangements without conflict. Both parents will have to communicate with each other to figure out access arrangements on an ongoing basis.

If you think the other parent may not communicate well enough with you to arrange for flexible parenting times, or you want something more specific in your order, you can ask for specific dates and times for parenting time or interaction. Supervised access is generally only used in cases where there could be a risk to the children’s safety if the visit is not supervised by another adult. Sometimes supervised access is also used to re-introduce a child to a parent who may not have seen them in a long time. If you are asking for supervised access, be prepared to tell the court who you think could act as a supervisor. This could be a friend or family member – but be sure to ask the friend or family member if they will agree to supervise. There may also be a community organization in your area who does supervised access visits – check with your court to find out if this service exists in your area.

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14. Are there guidelines for how much time a child should spend with each parent?

There are no specific rules around how much time a child should spend with each parent – every situation is different, and every child is different. There is a general principle of ‘maximum contact.’ This principle is found in both the Divorce Act and the Parenting and Support Act. This principle states that a child “should have as much contact with each [parent] as is consistent with the best interests of the child.” The best interests of the child will depend on that child’s specific needs and their situation.

In law, it is the child’s right to have contact with both parents, as long as this contact is safe and reasonable, and in the child's best interests.

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15. What if my child won’t go for their visit?

It is not unusual for a child to refuse to go to the other parent's home. Many children find these transitions difficult and may refuse to go, or if they go, may act out for a period of time after the transition.

Unless there are safety concerns with the other parent's home, parents are expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the child transitions to the other home. You would often deal with this in the same way you would if the child were refusing, for example, to go to school or go to child care. Some suggestions to make that transition go more smoothly are:

  • Don't misinterpret the child's refusal to go to the other parent's home as meaning there is something wrong going on at the other parent's home. This is probably not the case.
  • Don't misinterpret the child's refusal to transition to your home as the child not loving you. Even kids with a great relationship with a parent may sometimes refuse to transition into their care. 
  • Don't misinterpret the child's refusal to go to your home to mean that the other parent has been discouraging them from going with you. A refusal to transition into your care does not necessarily mean that the other parent is trying to discourage the child's relationship with you.
  • Be positive with the child about the time they are going to spend with the other parent.
  • Prepare the child for the transition by giving them age‑appropriate reminders ("tomorrow you will see your father"; "your mother will be here in ten minutes to pick you up").
  • Make sure that the child is not engaged in a fun activity (video game, TV show, etc.) when it is time to transition into the other parent's care.
  • Engage the child in the transition process. For example, have them help pack their overnight bag, have them call the other parent to let them know you are on your way, etc.
  • Allow the child to bring their favourite comfort items back and forth with them between houses (favourite blanket, video game, etc.)
  • Make sure that the transition times are as friendly and comfortable as possible. For example, although it may be a convenient time to discuss issues in relation to the child, if there is any chance the discussion will become uncomfortable or turn into a disagreement, hold off on the discussion for a time when the child is not present.
  • Make sure that the child has everything they will need for their time with the other parent so that there are no arguments during the transition time (homework, skates, etc.).

Children may not want to go with the other parent because they are worried about the parent they are leaving. Sometimes the transition is more difficult and traumatic for the parent than it is for the child.  Let the child know that you will be fine without them in your care. Be careful that you are not giving them any non‑verbal cues that you do not want them to go. Kids can understand body language!

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16. What if the other parent will not return the child after a visit?

What you are able to do in this situation will depend on your circumstances, and whether you have a court order or not. If you do not have a court order for custody, access, or parenting time, you can apply to the court for one. Usually you will make your application in the court nearest to where the child normally lives. If you have a court order, there may be court applications for enforcement that you can make, or you may apply to change your current order, depending on your situation. You should speak with a lawyer for advice about what to do. You may also speak to court staff about how to make an application in these circumstances.

Sometimes, police may get involved when a parent does not return a child. Generally, though, police may only get involved if the child is in danger, or if there is a court order in place that says which parent the child is supposed to be with at specific times. Policing agencies have their own rules and policies around what they will and will not enforce.

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17. If I am being denied time with my child, do I still have to pay child support?

Yes. In law, time with your child and the obligation to pay child support are two different things. You cannot use the other parent's action in denying contact as a reason to not meet your obligation to pay support.

It is the child’s right to have contact with each parent, and it is also the child’s right to be financially supported by both parents. You cannot deny one of the child’s rights (to have financial support) because you are being denied time with that child.

If you are being denied time with your child, you should speak with a lawyer for advice on what to do. If you do not have a court order, you may apply for one. If you have an order for time with the child already, there may be ways for you to change or enforce that order.

Under the Parenting and Support Act, there are applications that can be made when someone denies parenting time, contact time, or interaction as set out in a court order or registered agreement. These applications must be filed no more than twelve months from the date of the denial.

Under these applications, a judge may order any of the following:

  • counseling or programming for the parties or the child, which may have to be paid for by one or both of the parties
  • additional parenting time, contact time, or interaction
  • that the person failing to exercise time with the child reimburse the applicant for any expenses incurred as a result of the failure
    • for example, if the applicant had paid for transportation to bring the child to the visit, and the visit didn’t take place
  • that the transfer of the child for parenting time or contact time be supervised
    • this is sometimes called ‘supervised exchange’
  • that parenting time, contact time, or interaction now be supervised
    • this is sometimes called ‘supervised access’
  • the payment of costs or the payment of up to $5000 to be held in trust for the child
  • further court appearances

If the judge believes that the order will not be followed, they may also order that the respondent:

  • post security with the court
    • this means the respondent would leave a designated item or amount of money with the court
  • report to the court or to a person named by the court
    • this means the respondent would have to check in with the court or a person named in the order to show that they are following the order

If the judge finds that the parenting time, contact time, or interaction has been denied, without reasonable excuse, this may be considered a material change in circumstances. This means the judge may change the order for parenting time, contact time, or interaction. The judge can do this even if the applicant did not apply for the change.

Talk to a lawyer to find out what is best in your situation, and if making an application to the court is appropriate.

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18. The other parent isn’t paying child support. Do I still have to let my child visit them?

Yes. In law, child support and parenting time are two different things. You cannot use the other parent's failure to pay support as a reason to deny contact.

It is the child’s right to have contact with each parent, and it is also the child’s right to be financially supported by both parents. You cannot deny one of the child’s rights (to have time with both parents) because you are not receiving child support.

If you are not receiving child support from the other parent, you should speak with a lawyer for advice on what to do. If you do not have a court order, you may apply for one. If you have an order for child support already, you can have this order enforced through the Maintenance Enforcement Program.

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19. What if the other parent doesn’t visit the children when they are supposed to?

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make someone visit their children. If the other parent is supposed to have specific visits with the children and is not exercising this time, keep track of the days and times when this happened, and what the circumstances were.

Sometimes things come up – if the other parent becomes ill or is called into work, there may be nothing they can do, other than letting you know they cannot visit that day. If the other parent misses many visits for no good reason, you should seek legal advice about what to do.

If the parenting arrangements are set out in a court order, you may be able to apply to change that order; however, it is considered the child’s right to have contact with both parents (as long as this is safe and reasonable), so asking for the other parent to have no parenting time at all may not be something that will be ordered. 

Under the Parenting and Support Act, there are applications that can be made when someone fails to exercise parenting time, contact time, or interaction as set out in a court order or registered agreement. These applications must be filed no more than twelve months from the date of the failure.

Under these applications, a judge may order any of the following:

  • counseling or programming for the parties or the child, which may have to be paid for by one or both of the parties
  • additional parenting time, contact time, or interaction
  • that the person failing to exercise time with the child reimburse the applicant for any expenses incurred as a result of the failure
    • for example, if the applicant had paid for transportation to bring the child to the visit, and the visit didn’t take place
  • that the transfer of the child for parenting time or contact time be supervised
    • this is sometimes called ‘supervised exchange’
  • that parenting time, contact time, or interaction now be supervised
    • this is sometimes called ‘supervised access’
  • the payment of costs or the payment of up to $5000 to be held in trust for the child
  • further court appearances

If the judge believes that the order will not be followed, they may also order that the respondent:

  • post security with the court
    • this means the respondent would leave a designated item or amount of money with the court
  • report to the court or to a person named by the court
    • this means the respondent would have to check in with the court or a person named in the order to show that they are following the order

If the judge finds that the parenting time, contact time, or interaction has been not been exercised, without reasonable excuse, this may be considered a material change in circumstances. This means the judge may change the order for parenting time, contact time, or interaction. The judge can do this even if the applicant did not apply for the change.

Talk to a lawyer to find out what is best in your situation, and if making an application to the court is appropriate.

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20. Can I sign away rights to my child? If I do, will I still have to pay child support?

Again, contact with both parents and financial support from both parents are the child’s legal rights. You cannot make the decision to deny the child either of these rights. If you are asking to sign away your rights to your child, or to have the other parent sign away their rights, you need to speak with a lawyer for advice.

If you agree to not have time or visitation with your child, you will likely still have to pay child support, as one issue has nothing to do with the other.

One exception to this is adoption. If your child is adopted by someone else, this will completely cut the legal tie between you and your child. You should seek legal advice if you are thinking of applying for someone to adopt your child, or are going to consent to your child being adopted by someone else.

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21. Where do I go to make a court application for custody and parenting arrangements?

Usually when you are applying to the court to get a court order for custody, parenting time, contact time, or interaction, you must apply to the court closest to where the children are living. This is so that the court is allowed, or ‘has jurisdiction,’ to process that application.

For example, if you live in Kentville, but the children live in Port Hawkesbury, you will likely have to contact the court in Port Hawkesbury to make your application. If your children do not live in Nova Scotia, you will probably need to contact the court nearest to where the children are living to find out how to make an application there. If you are dealing with custody and access as part of a divorce proceeding, though, this may work differently. If you are not sure where to file your application for parenting arrangements, you should speak with a lawyer or court officer. 

Custody and parenting issues are dealt with in Family Court, or in the Supreme Court (Family Division) if you are making an application in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), Sydney, or Port Hawkesbury. If you are divorced, you will usually make your application in the Supreme Court if you are applying outside of the Halifax Regional Municipality or Cape Breton.

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22. How do I get a court order for custody or parenting arrangements?

Once you have figured out which court is closest to the children (which court will have jurisdiction to process the application), you will need to contact that court, and ask about their process for starting an application. There may be more than one way to start the application process. For example, the court may have an intake process you can use, or you may be able to file documents on your own or with a lawyer’s help.

If you have a lawyer, you should speak with your lawyer before beginning any court process. Your lawyer will likely help you fill out the required court forms and help you start your application. If you have a low income, you may qualify to get a lawyer through Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Even if you do not meet the low-income requirements to be represented by Legal Aid, you may be able to have a short consultation with a Legal Aid lawyer as a starting point. Contact your local Legal Aid office to see whether you might qualify for their service.

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23. What if my situation is urgent or an emergency?

If you are looking to start a court application for custody or parenting arrangements on an urgent or emergency basis, you can ask court staff about this process. You should also speak with a lawyer for advice on whether your application may be considered urgent or an emergency by the court.

An ‘emergency’ application may be filed where there is a likelihood of danger to those involved, either one of the parties or a child. For example, if there is a risk of violence or immediate harm, or the child is on the way to the airport and may be taken out of the country, this may be considered an ‘emergency.’ A judge will decide whether your situation will be treated as an emergency.

An ‘urgent’ application may be filed when your situation is not an ‘emergency’, but may be time-sensitive, or needs to be heard quickly because of special circumstances. A judge will decide whether your situation will be treated on an urgent basis.

For more information about urgent or emergency court applications, please click here.

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24. What happens when one parent dies?

Usually, if one parent dies, the other will get custody of the children. You and the other parent may want to say this in your wills, or in your separation agreement, if you have one, to be clear about what your wishes are.

If you have custody of your children, and you do not want the other parent to have custody if something should happen to you, you can state this in your will, and you can specify who you want as your children’s guardian. The other parent, though, may disagree with this, and may apply to the court to have custody of the children. The other parent will usually be given custody of the children, unless a judge decides that they are not a suitable parent or cannot look after the children safely. You should speak to a lawyer to get advice on this issue.

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25. My name is not on my child’s birth certificate. Can I still apply to the court for custody or parenting arrangements?

Yes. If you are a biological parent to a child, you can make an application to the court for custody or parenting arrangements, and you do not need any special permission to do this. 

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26. How do I get my name added to or removed from a child’s birth certificate?

You can apply to the court under the Vital Statistics Act to ask to have your name added to your child’s birth certificate, or to ask to have your name removed from a child’s birth certificate. You will have to fill out certain court documents and will likely have to pay a filing fee for your application.

These applications are made in Supreme Court, or at the Supreme Court (Family Division) if you are filing in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) or in Cape Breton.

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27. How long should I wait to introduce my new partner to my children?

Children generally need time to adjust to their parents’ separation before they are introduced to either parent’s new partner.  Introduce your child to a new partner only when you know the relationship is serious and your child seems to have adjusted to the separation. A general rule is that you should be with your new partner for at least 6 months before they are introduced to your children, but every child and every situation is different. Give children time to get to know the person before they are expected to spend long periods of time together. Children need time to adapt and it takes time to develop closeness, affection, friendship and trust.

Continue to spend time with your child or children without your new partner present. Finding extra time for your child while seeing a new person can be difficult, but it is important. You must continue to put the needs and best interests of your child first even as you develop new intimate partner relationships.

Clear and sensitive communication is the key to helping children cope with the adjustment of a new partner. It is important to give your child permission to talk about their feelings and be prepared to accept them. Respect that your children may not feel the same way you do about the new partner. 

Children can very much benefit from a healthy and positive relationship with their parent’s new partner. A new partner can be a very special friend and a wonderful support for children whose parents are no longer together.

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28. Should my children still have contact with the other parent’s family?

When parents separate, children may need their extended families more than ever. The grandparents on both sides of the family and the extended families on both sides can be a resource for the parents and the children. Sometimes, because of strong feelings about a former partner, parents are tempted to exclude the former ‘in-laws’ from their lives and the lives of their children.  Sometimes the extended family discontinues contact with the parent and their children.

Existing positive relationships with other family members should be encouraged and continued – relationships that are safe and reasonable in your circumstances. Failure to do so can result in another loss for the children.

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29. When is a child old enough to decide where they want to live?

This depends on your child and your situation. The law does not say at what age a child can make this decision. Generally, if the child is still a minor (under 19), it is up to their parents to make decisions about the child’s living arrangements, though older children may want to have a say too. Parents can discuss arrangements with older children, if this is reasonable and the child is mature enough to address this issue.

If parents cannot agree on the parenting arrangements and end up going to court on this issue, the child may have some input during the court process. Whether the child will be involved at this stage will depend on their age and maturity, and the circumstances. It will be up to a judge to decide if the child will have any input.

Sometimes, the child’s wishes can be presented to the court through a Voice of the Child Report This is a court-ordered process where the child or children are interviewed by a professional to determine their preferences in parenting arrangements. The assessor will make sure that the child has not been coached or persuaded by anyone or anything to make a certain decision, and will ensure that the child is mature enough to have a say in the proceedings. The assessor will make it clear that the child does not have the final say in the decision, as putting children in the position of ‘choosing’ between their parents puts enormous pressure on a child.  These reports cost money, and can only be ordered by a judge.

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30. Do I bring my kids to court with me?

In most cases, no. Parents should not bring children to court except in rare situations. It is important that children be kept out of the middle of disputes, especially those that involve court. Children should not know the details of your court case. Allowing them to come to court involves them in the conflict and is likely to be emotionally damaging to them. You should speak to a lawyer in any unusual situation where you think you might want your child to come to court, for example, to act as a witness.

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31. How do I get paternity testing done?

If you and the other parent or potential parent(s) agree to have paternity testing done, you can arrange testing yourselves through an agency that offers this service. If the other parent or potential parent will not agree to this testing, you can make an application to the court to get an order requiring that this testing be done. You should speak with a lawyer for advice if this is your situation.

There is a cost for paternity testing, and the costs are usually paid by the person who wants the testing done.

For more information on findings of paternity and paternity testing, click here.

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32. How do I get information about my child from their school, doctor, or other professionals (‘third parties’)?

An agreement or order for parenting time made under the Parenting and Support Act generally includes that all parents or guardians have the ability to ask for and receive information about the child’s health, education, and general welfare unless the order or agreement says otherwise. This means, for example, that the parent or guardian with parenting time can ask the child’s school for information about the child, or can receive copies of the child’s report cards. This also means that the parent or guardian with parenting time can speak to the child’s doctor about the child’s medical appointments and health, unless the order or agreement says something different.

You may wish to consider having a clause in your court order or separation agreement that specifically identifies these abilities. Third parties may not understand that parenting time comes with the ability to access this information. Third parties generally do not want to get into the middle of disputes and will want to be sure that the person giving consent or accessing information in relation to a child has the right to receive that information or give consent. Third parties could get into legal problems if they give information to people who are not supposed to have it. There are different kinds of wording about this issue that may work in a court order or agreement. Speak with a lawyer for advice if you have these concerns so that your order or agreement can deal with this issue.

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33. What if the other parent won’t sign my child’s Passport application or allow them to travel with me?

If you are planning to travel with your child, or to allow your child to travel with someone other than the other parent, like a grandparent, it is best to work out these issues well ahead of time. In most cases, you will need the other parent to sign a consent form allowing you to get your child’s Passport if your child is under 16. Once the child is 16, they can apply for their own Passport.

If you have a court order or registered separation agreement that says you have custody of your children, and that the other parent does not have parenting time with the children, you may not need the other parent to sign anything to get your child’s Passport. You should check with your local Passport Office, though, to determine what documents they will need from you.

If the Passport Office needs you to get the other parent’s consent, and the other parent will not sign the form or you do not know where the other parent is, you may be able to make an application to the court to get an order allowing you to get the Passport without the other parent’s consent. You can also ask for the order to say that you can travel with the child without the other parent’s consent. Speak to the court nearest you on how to do this. It is also a good idea to get advice from a lawyer on this issue.

If you think a custody dispute might arise, you should get legal advice before your child leaves Canada. Other countries may not recognize your child custody arrangements. See International Child Abductions: A Manual for Parents for more information.

Do not make firm travel plans until you have all required documents and consents.  Plan your trip well in advance, and give yourself enough time to deal with any possible complications.

You can also visit Passport Canada's website for information about Passports for children, including the requirements for a child's Passport application.

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34. What documents should I bring with me when I’m traveling with my children?

You should bring certified copies of the court order(s) that relate to your children with you. These would be any custody or access orders, orders for parenting time, contact time, or interaction, and any orders that relate to you being allowed to travel with your children.

A certified copy is a document from a court file, like an order, that is authorized as a true copy of the original. Court staff will put a stamp and signature on the copy to show that it is certified.

Double-check any court orders and agreements between you and the other parent to make sure there is nothing in the order or agreement that puts restrictions on taking your child out of the province or country. If you are unsure, get legal advice.

If the other parent has consented to the travel, you should also have a letter stating that they agree to the travel, and this letter should be notarized by a lawyer. This letter should say where you are going, and how long you will be gone (from this date to this date). Click here for a sample consent letter.

 

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35. Do lawyers represent children?

In Nova Scotia, lawyers do not usually represent children. Lawyers represent the parents or guardians of children. In some special cases, children may have lawyers assigned to represent them, but this is rare, and usually only happens in child protection cases.

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36. Do I have to apply to the court to get custody of or contact time with our grandchildren?

Most grandparents do not have to go to court to get contact time with their grandchildren, as this is worked out privately among the grandparents and parents.

Even if you are having difficulties, you may not need a court order for time with your grandchildren, if you can agree on visiting arrangements with the parents. There are services available that may assist you with getting an agreement without having to go to court, such as negotiating with the help of a lawyer, using a collaborative law process, or going to mediation.

If you have filed an application with the court, you may have the option of going to court-based ADR ('conciliation'). The issues between the parties may be resolved with a trained court officer who will help the parties negotiate a settlement, without having to go to court.

If you cannot come to an agreement with the parents, and wish to apply to the court for an order for custody of your grandchild, you will need to apply for permission to make a court application. This is called asking for ‘leave of the court.' As of September 1, 2014, you do not need to ask for leave if you are only asking to deal with contact time or interaction with your grandchild. For more information for grandparents, click here.

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