Until parents of a child make an agreement or get a court order about parenting, they are generally considered joint guardians of their child, with equal rights, powers and duties. Both the Divorce Act and The Children’s Law Act use the terms parenting time and decision-making responsibilities to describe the rights and responsibilities of parents in relation to their child.
Decision-making responsibility is the responsibility to make major decisions in a child’s life, such as where the child will live and go to school, the type of religious or spiritual education the child will take part in, and whether or not to seek or consent to medical treatment.
Parenting time is the time a child spends with each parent. The parents of a child may agree to, or a court may order, parenting time for someone other than a parent. This may happen when a child has a close and meaningful relationship with someone like a grandparent or other extended family member. Court orders allowing others such as grandparents to spend time with a child may be termed “contact orders”.
There are two aspects of caring for children to be considered when parents are not living together. One aspect is the right and responsibility to make major decisions for the child. The other aspect concerns when the child will spend time with each parent. There can be various combinations of these two aspects. Below are some examples of parenting arrangements that combine these two aspects in different ways.
Shared Parenting. The child lives with each parent for an equal, or close to equal amount of time and the parents generally share decision-making responsibilities.
Parallel Parenting. The child spends time living with each parent and that parent generally has complete responsibility for the child when the child is with them.
Split Parenting. Each parent is responsible for one or more children—for example, a family may have the older children living with one parent while the younger children live with the other parent.
Primary Residence. Sometimes used to describe situations where a child will live mainly with one parent even though the parents share major decision-making responsibilities.
Nesting. Used to describe situations where the child remains in the family home while the parents take turns moving in and out.