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Child custody and access: Setting parental visitation parameters

When parents get divorced, there are many difficult decisions to be made. Perhaps the most difficult, and the most contested, decisions are those that concern child custody arrangements. It may often seen that arriving at one set of agreements only opens up a new area of concern to be dealt with. Case in point: determining access after sole custody has been granted.

An Ontario parent who has sole custody of a child has been given the responsibility to make most or all of the key decisions for regarding that child's life. This includes areas such as religious upbringing and education. However, this does not mean that the other parent doesn't get to see his or her child, even if the child lives with the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent is generally allowed access to the child on some level.

Access can be granted in one of several formats. The most open and informal arrangement is known as 'reasonable access'. This type of arrangement is well-suited to parents who are still able to cooperate with one another, and does not involve a fixed schedule. Rather, parents make decisions about access times together to suit occasions as they arise.

'Fixed access' arrangements involve setting schedules for access in advance. Parents can pre-determine regular access and make provisions for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays. Fixed access may not always be easy to agree upon, but can save time and trouble in the future.

In some situations, such as when one parent has been abusive, or has struggled with addictions, it may be necessary to monitor or restrict access. 'Supervised access' allows for a parent to visit with his or her child, but only while being monitored by a trusted third party. Extreme situations may necessitate withholding access entirely.

Making and enforcing child custody and access arrangements in Ontario is not always easy. Each parent is likely to have distinct opinions on what is best for them, as well as what is best for the child. A family law attorney may be able to help an individual work towards the arrangement best suited for everyone involved, and ensure it is carried through.

Source:, "Separation and Divorce: Child Custody, Access, and Parenting Plans", Accessed on Jan. 12, 2017

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