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What is custody and who gets custody?

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What is custody and who gets custody?
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CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
Ministry of the Attorney General
Law Society of Ontario

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What is custody and who gets custody?
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Reviewed: 
July 15, 2019
Answer

Child custody means having the legal right to make major decisions about how to care for and raise your child. Custody is not about who your child lives with or how much time your child spends with each of you.

For example, even if you have custody and are the only one who can make decisions about your child, your child might live equal amounts of time with you and your partner. Or, your child might live mainly with you, but you and your partner have joint custody and share decision-making.

The parent with custody has the right to make important decisions about:

  • education
  • medical care
  • religion

There are different kinds of custody arrangements that say who can make these kinds of major decisions. The most common are joint custody and sole custody.

Joint custody means that both parents together make these major decisions about their child's life.

Sole custody means that one parent makes these major decisions about their child's life and the other parent is told about the decision that was made.

In some cases, other people might get custody, such as a step-parent, grandparent, or other relative. Or, it could be someone outside the family who has a close relationship with the child.

If you and your partner agree on custody arrangements, you can put what you've agreed on in an agreement.

If you can't agree, you can ask a family law professional like a mediator to help you work out an agreement.

For example, each family court location in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services. You can get up to 8 hours of mediation for a fee that is based on each person's income. You can use this service whether or not you have a court case. And if you have a court case, you can get up to 2 hours of mediation for free at the court.

Or, you can go to court and ask a judge to decide. The judge uses a legal test called the best interests of the child to make decisions about custody, access, and parenting.

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