Family Law Blog

How is Child Custody* Decided in British Columbia?

How is Child Custody* Decided in British Columbia?

*it should be noted that the term ‘custody’, which is used in the Divorce Act, is often used to refer to what the BC provincial legislation addresses under ‘parenting time’ and ‘parental responsibilities’ -- that is how we use the term here, but it is not fully representative of its technical legal meaning

Divorces are rarely pleasant for the parties involved. When children are added to the mix, the question of child custody has the potential to cause untold heartbreak. Under the BC Family Law Act, courts will always prioritize the best interests of the child when reaching a decision about custody. In this week’s blog, we’re going to examine the various issues around deciding child custody in BC.

The Different Types of Custody

All else being equal, it’s generally best for a child to spend the maximum amount of time possible with each parent. The court does not operate under any presumption as to what the best arrangements are, as they must consider the particular circumstances of every case, and no two cases are the same. Ideally, separated couples will be able to come to an agreement that is aligned with the children’s best interests, but often it is left to the court to determine the best arrangements. Though there are more details than can be covered here, parenting arrangements, whether established by agreement or court order, fall roughly into the following categories:

  •   Sole Custody: The child lives with one parent (or guardian) all or most of the time. This sole parent typically has primary or exclusive legal responsibility for all decisions regarding the child. Parents typically need to consult with the other parents regarding major decisions, and will have decision making responsibilities for day-to-day matters while a child is in their care.
  •   Joint Custody: An arrangement where each parent generally has a substantial amount of time with the child, and the parents are generally required to make decisions in consultation with one another.
  •   Split Custody: In a couple with multiple children, split custody involves children living with separate parents.

How the Court Decides Custody

As we mentioned earlier, BC courts can consider only the best interests of a child when making a decision on custody. Some relevant factors are the child’s health and emotional well-being, the history of the child’s care, and the child’s views. The older a child is, the more impactful their views will be on the final decision. 

Sometimes, a psychologist, counsellor or lawyer with specialized training will meet with the child in question, and prepare a report on the child’s views and/or needs, which will be presented to the court for consideration. 

When is Sole Custody Granted to a Parent?

While the court does not lightly terminate a parent’s role in caring for their child, it is sometimes necessary for them to do so in the family law context. Common reasons for sole custody being granted include:

  •   One parent is deemed unfit due to a pattern of problematic behaviour, including violence toward, or in the presence of, the child
  •   One parent has abandoned the child
  •   One parent is deceased
  •   One parent isn’t able to care for the child due to physical or mental illness

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.