1. What is custody?
Custody can often refer to the “physical custody” of the child; that is, in which parent’s care is the child on a given day; however, the more usual use of the word custody refers to the “legal custody” of the child.
Legal custody refers to which parent has the responsibility to make the major decisions in the life of the child including, religious upbringing, education, medical and dental care, etc. It does not include the day decisions involving the child, for example, bed times, what a child eats for their meals, etc. Those decisions are usually made by the parent who has the child in their care at the time.
If only one parent has the responsibility for making major decisions, they are often described as having custody, sole custody, or full custody. If both parents have the responsibility for making those decisions, they are often described as having joint custody.
“Primary care giver” or “Primary Residence” is a term that is often seen in Agreements or Court Orders but is not one that is defined in the law. This is really a term of convenience. It is often easier to say that a child lives with one parent primarily and then set out the other parent’s schedule with the child. The primary care giver does not have any more legal right to make major decisions in the life of the child than the non-primary caregiver. To decide who has the responsibility for making major decisions, one must look to the language of custody.
2. Should I have a copy of the court order or agreement between the parents?
Yes. You do not need to know how the parents resolved their property division or support issues, but the parents should be asked to provide the school with a copy of the relevant provisions regarding the parenting of the child. As well, they should be asked to be provided any updates to the school in a timely manner.
3. Who is permitted to pick up a child at school?
Each school has forms they ask the parents to fill out at the beginning of the school year indicating who is permitted to pick up the child at school. Generally speaking, both parents should be able to pick their child up from the school. Occasionally, one parent will try to limit the ability of the other parent to pick up the child up at the school. If this is the case, you should ask to see a copy of the agreement or Court Order setting out this detail.
Other family members and friends should only be permitted to pick up the child at school if the parent or parents having custody of the child agree.
4. Who should attend parent teacher meetings?
Generally speaking, it is in the child’s best interest if both parents participate in the child’s education. Therefore, it is generally the case that both parents should attend parent teacher meetings.
It is better if both parents attend at one meeting together; however, sometimes after a separation, it is problematic for both parents to attend parent teacher meetings together. In these cases, as much of an inconvenience as it is to the teacher and school administrators, two separate meetings should be scheduled.
Even if one parent does not have legal custody of the child, they are still entitled to attend parent teacher meetings. Only if there is a Court Order or Agreement to the contrary, should one parent be excluded from parent teacher meetings.
5. Who is responsible for completing the child’s homework?
Besides the child, it is the parent who has care of the child on the day that the homework is to be completed who is responsible for ensuring the child completes the homework.
6. Which parent should be called in case of emergency or if the child needs to be picked up from school?
Either parent can be called in the case of emergency, or if the child needs to be picked up from school. It would, of course, be most convenient to contact the parent who has care of the child on that particular day. This is why it would be helpful for the school administration to have a copy of the parenting plan between the parents.
7. Who has access to the child’s education file and information?
Both parents have access to the child’s educational file and information. In fact, the Divorce Act, R.S.C., 1985 c. 3 at Section 16 (5) provides that any parent who has parenting time with a child has the right to make inquiries, and to be given information, as to the health, education and welfare of the child.
8. Is there any difference between a child whose parents are divorced and one whose parents were never married?
No. The legislation that deals with these two sets of parents is different. Married parents who have started divorce proceedings are governed by the Federal Divorce Act; whereas, a child whose parents were never married is governed by the Provincial Maintenance and Custody Act. However, the principals of both pieces of legislation are the same.
9. What should I do if I suspect that a child is being neglected or abused?
Consult with your school administration. The concerns may be able to be addressed directly with the parents; however, you should be aware that Section 23 of the Children and Family Services Act provides that every person who has information, whether or not it is confidential or privileged, indicating that the child is being neglected or abused must immediately report that information to the Department of Community Services. Anyone who fails to report can be charged under the Act.
10. Who is responsible for paying for class trips, lunch programs, school pictures, instrument rentals for school bands, etc.?
Generally speaking it is the primary caregivers responsibility to pay for these expenses. However, if both parents have more or less equal parenting time with the child, both parents could be responsible, or the parties’ Agreement or Court Order may set out who is responsible for such expenses.
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