Family Law Blog

Separation and Child Custody in BC – How Child Custody is Decided

Separation and Child Custody in BC – How Child Custody is Decided

In this week’s blog, we’re examining the issue of how child custody is decided in British Columbia. Before we commence, let’s take a quick opportunity to explain the terminology we’ll be using in this blog.

Custody – BC Law does not use the term “custody,” instead it uses the terms “parenting time” or “parental responsibilities.” Parenting time refers to the time a child spends in the care of a parent. Parental responsibilities refers to the daily decisions made when caring for a child. However, for the sake of simplicity, in this blog we will use the term custody to encompass both with whom the child resides and the day-to-day care of a child. 

Separation is not easy. The challenges are only compounded when children are involved. In BC, the Family Law Act provides a set of instructions for how custody is decided. It explains that BC courts must prioritize the “best interests of the child” when deciding upon custody. In practice, this means that each case presents a unique set of circumstances for the court to analyze to determine the best interests of the child.  It is highly recommended to seek the expertise of a family law expert before engaging with the process.

Explaining Child Custody

In an ideal world, the separating parents would come together and jointly agree to a custody arrangement that serves the best interests of a child. Unless there are other factors in play, it is usually in the child’s interest to spend as much time with each parent as practical. This is borne out in the types of custody arrangements we commonly see.

In BC, the most common type of custody arrangement in family law is a Joint Custody or Shared Parenting agreement. However, this is just one of the custody arrangements available. Here’s a quick rundown of the available options:

  • Sole Custody – In a Sole Custody arrangement, the child will live with one of the parents all of the time. The parent with sole custody will generally make decisions on behalf of the child.
  • Joint Custody or Shared Parenting – In a Joint Custody or Shared Parenting arrangement, the child spends an agreed upon amount of time with each parent. Both parents generally have a say in decisions impacting the child. 
  • Shared Custody – In a Shared Custody arrangement, the child splits their time living with both parents. Under this arrangement, the child will spend at least 40% of their time with both parents. Both parents generally have an equal say in decisions impacting the child. This arrangement is often commonly referred to as 50/50 custody as well. 
  • Split Custody – A Split Custody arrangement is applicable to families with multiple children. Under this arrangement,  one or some of the children will live with one parent, while others live with the other parent. The parent with custody will generally make decisions on behalf of the child or children in their custody.

Making a Decision on Child Custody

The BC Family Law Act mandates that a court will always prioritize the child’s best interests when deciding custody. The Family Law Act also states that a child’s view on their custody must be taken into consideration during the decision-making process. Generally, the older the child, the more weight their opinion is given. 

The court considers many factors to establish the best interests of the child. These include:

  • the physical health of the child;
  • the child’s mental health and emotional well-being;
  • the child’s opinion;
  • the child’s medical requirements and special needs;
  • educational considerations (i.e. where the child goes to school etc.); and/or
  • the relationship between each parent and the child. 

After considering all of the above factors, along with any other case-specific factors, the court will decide on some sort of custody arrangement. In practise, a joint custody arrangement where the child spends time with both parents is often commonly ordered. Sole custody is only granted in very rare cases. Sole custody can sometimes be granted if: 

  • a parent is deemed unfit due to mental illness, addiction, or abusive behaviour;
  • a parent abandons the child;
  • one parent is deceased; or
  • one parent is incapable of childcare.

Get in Touch

If you have questions or concerns about child custody and parenting time, contact us today to speak with a lawyer. We are hard at work to ensure you and your child’s best interests are safeguarded during this stressful time.