Understanding Child Custody Arrangements in Ontario

Navigating child custody arrangements can be one of the most challenging aspects of a separation or divorce. Understanding the types of custody, the factors the court considers, and the process involved can help parents make informed decisions in the best interests of their children. In Ontario, child custody laws aim to ensure that children continue to have a meaningful relationship with both parents while prioritizing their safety and well-being.

Types of Child Custody in Ontario

In Ontario, child custody can be classified into different types, each with its own legal implications:

  1. Sole Custody: One parent has the exclusive right to make major decisions about the child’s life, including education, healthcare, and religion. The other parent may still have access or visitation rights.
  2. Joint Custody: Both parents share the responsibility for making major decisions about the child’s upbringing. This does not necessarily mean that the child will spend equal time with each parent, but it does require parents to cooperate and communicate effectively.
  3. Shared Custody: This arrangement involves the child spending at least 40% of their time with each parent. Shared custody can influence child support calculations and emphasizes a balanced time-sharing approach.
  4. Split Custody: In cases involving multiple children, split custody occurs when one or more children live primarily with one parent, and the remaining children live with the other parent. This arrangement is less common and is typically considered when it best serves the children’s individual needs.

Factors Courts Consider in Custody Decisions

Ontario courts prioritize the best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements. The following factors are considered:

  • Child’s Needs: The court assesses the emotional, physical, and psychological needs of the child and how each parent can meet those needs.
  • Parent-Child Relationship: The nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each parent are crucial. Courts look at the involvement of each parent in the child’s life.
  • Parental Ability: Each parent’s ability to provide care, guidance, and support is evaluated, including their capacity to make decisions in the child’s best interests.
  • Stability: The importance of maintaining stability in the child’s life, including their home, school, and community environment, is taken into account.
  • Child’s Wishes: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, their preferences may be considered.
  • History of Family Violence: Any history of abuse or violence is a critical factor, as the safety and well-being of the child are paramount.

The Custody Process in Ontario

The process of establishing custody arrangements in Ontario involves several steps:

  1. Negotiation and Mediation: Parents are encouraged to reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation. Mediation can help parents communicate more effectively and develop a mutually acceptable custody plan without court intervention.
  2. Parenting Plan: Parents can create a parenting plan outlining custody and access arrangements. This plan can be formalized into a separation agreement and submitted to the court for approval.
  3. Court Involvement: If parents cannot agree, they may need to go to court. A judge will make a custody decision based on the child’s best interests. The court may also order assessments or involve child custody evaluators to gather more information.
  4. Modification of Custody Orders: Custody arrangements are not set in stone. If circumstances change significantly, either parent can apply to the court to modify the custody order. The court will again consider the best interests of the child in any modification request.


Understanding child custody arrangements in Ontario involves recognizing the various types of custody, the factors that influence court decisions, and the process for establishing and modifying custody orders. Parents should prioritize their children’s well-being and strive to create a cooperative parenting relationship. Legal advice from a family lawyer can be invaluable in navigating these complex issues and ensuring that the custody arrangement serves the best interests of the child.

*The above is drafted by Soica Law Professional Corporation and not intended as legal advice.