Husband and wife discussing custody with a family law lawyer

How is Custody Determined in Ontario?

Custody also known as decision-making in Ontario is a crucial aspect of family law proceedings, as it directly impacts a child’s well-being and future. When parents separate or divorce, the court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child. Ontario’s family law system takes into account various factors to make fair and appropriate custody and access arrangements. This article aims to explain how custody is determined in Ontario, including the potential involvement of grandparents or other relatives, the factors considered during custody decisions, and the importance of a child’s preferences in the process.

Custody Determination in Ontario

Child custody or decision-making in Ontario is determined based on the principle of the child’s best interests. The court considers the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of the child while making custody decisions. The primary types of custody arrangements in Ontario are sole custody and joint custody. We have outlined in greater detail the definition and outline of each custody type. Sole custody grants one parent the right to make significant decisions regarding the child’s life, whereas joint custody allows both parents to share these responsibilities. There are some common misconceptions about sole custody covered here

Custody is not the same as access to learn more about the difference between custody and access check out our article. 

Factors Considered During Custody and Access Arrangements

Several factors are considered when determining custody or decision-making and access arrangements in Ontario:

  • Parent-Child Relationship: The court evaluates the strength of the bond between the child and each parent to determine the level of involvement in the child’s life.
  • Stability and Continuity: The court examines which parent can provide a stable and consistent living environment for the child.
  • Parental Ability: The court assesses each parent’s ability to meet the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs.
  • Parental Cooperation: The court looks at the willingness of each parent to foster a positive and cooperative relationship with the other parent, promoting the child’s best interests.
  • Cultural and Religious Considerations: The court acknowledges the importance of maintaining the child’s cultural and religious identity when making custody decisions.
  • History of Abuse or Neglect: If there is evidence of abuse or neglect, the court will prioritize the child’s safety and well-being above all else.

Child’s Preferences in Custody Determination

Ontario law recognizes that as a child matures, their preferences regarding custody arrangements may become more meaningful. However, there is no fixed age when a child’s preference automatically carries significant weight. The court will consider a child’s wishes based on their age, maturity, and ability to articulate their desires.

Generally, children under the age of 12 may have their preferences considered, but they may not be the sole determining factor. As the child approaches adolescence and demonstrates a higher level of maturity and understanding, their wishes may carry more weight in the court’s decision-making process.

Can Grandparents or Other Relatives Get Custody or Access Rights?

Yes, in certain circumstances, grandparents or other relatives may be granted custody or access rights to the child. If it is in the best interests of the child and the court believes that the child’s well-being would be significantly improved, grandparents or relatives may be awarded custody or access. However, the court will always prioritize the child’s relationship with their parents, unless there are exceptional circumstances that warrant a different decision. 

Eligibility to Apply for Custody

In Ontario, the Children’s Law Reform Act allows grandparents or any other person who has demonstrated a sufficient connection to the child to apply for custody. The court will consider the relationship the grandparent or relative has with the child, the reasons for seeking custody, and whether granting custody to the grandparent or relative would be in the child’s best interests.

Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Before pursuing a court application for custody, the Children’s Law Reform Act requires that parties attend mediation or other ADR processes to attempt to resolve custody issues amicably. These processes aim to encourage communication and cooperation among the parties involved, keeping the child’s best interests at the forefront.

Filing an Application for Custody

If mediation or ADR is unsuccessful, the grandparent or relative can proceed with filing an application for custody in the family court. They will need to complete the necessary court forms, outlining their relationship with the child, reasons for seeking custody, and how they believe it serves the child’s best interests.

Court Proceedings and Evidence

During the court proceedings, the grandparent or relative will have the opportunity to present evidence supporting their case for custody. This may include testimonies, documents, or expert opinions that demonstrate their ability to care for the child and promote their well-being.

Assessment by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL)

In contentious custody cases, the court may appoint the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) to conduct an investigation and provide a report to assist in determining the child’s best interests. The OCL represents the child’s interests and provides an independent assessment.

Determining child custody in Ontario revolves around safeguarding the child’s best interests while considering various critical factors. Whether it’s determining the type of custody, granting access rights to grandparents or relatives, or considering the child’s preferences, the court aims to create an arrangement that promotes the child’s well-being and happiness. Parents involved in custody disputes should prioritize open communication, cooperation, and an unwavering focus on their child’s needs. 

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