Separated parents of especially young children will often need to decide how much time their children can and should spend in each parent’s care.  As children get older, they may have strong preferences for parenting time, which preferences will have greater weight for the older age groups. However, for younger children, their parents, or the Court, will decide the parenting schedules. This blog is intended to provide guidelines on selecting a parenting schedule for particularly younger children (up to age 5).

The Children’s Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c C. 12, provides that a child is to spend “as much time with each parent as is consistent with the best interests of the child”. The Supreme Court of Canada in Barendregt v. Grebliunas, 2022 SCC 22 confirms that this language does not create a presumption of equal parenting time. Yet, many parents believe it is in their children’s best interests to reside equally with both parents, post-separation. It is always preferred that parents resolve their affairs outside of court. However, often times a settlement is not possible, and one or both parents must turn to the courts. In those situations, both parents, those requesting equal parenting time and those requesting something else, must show the court that their parenting plan is in their child’s best interests.

In deciding what is in a child’s best interests, Courts are increasingly relying upon the parenting plan guide created by the Association of Family and Concilian Courts- Ontario (“AFCC-O”), published in December 2021. As noted by the Honourable Justice Kraft in Hatab v. Abuhatab, 2022 ONSC 1560 at para. 61, “While not binding on the courts, the Guide provides a great deal of helpful information and reflects a professional consensus in Ontario about the significant of current child development research for post-separation parenting…”

Parenting Plan Templates Based on Age Categories

The AFCC-O provides age appropriate recommendations and parenting plan templates, in the following age categories: Infants (birth-9 months), Babies (9-18 months), Toddlers (18-36 months), Preschoolers (3-5 years), Early School Age Children (6-9 years), Late School Age Children (10-12 years), Early Adolescents (13-15 years) and Late Adolescents (16-18 years).

Infants: According to the AFCC-O, if parents have different parenting views and styles while parenting an infant, it may be better for the child to remain with the primary caregiver (i.e. the breastfeeding mother), and the other parent(s) to have a more limited role during this period (up to 9 months).

Babies: If the parents separate while their child is a baby (9-18 months) and they have both have consistent, good quality involvement in all aspects of the child prior to separation, “it may be appropriate for a shared parenting arrangement to continue with regular overnights with both parents.” However, at this age, the child should see each parent every two to three days.

Toddlers: Similar guidelines as those for babies apply for toddlers with an easy temperament. However, for toddlers with a more difficult temperament, it is recommended that they remain with a primary caregiver with gradually increasing parenting time to the other parent.

Pre-schoolers: For pre-schoolers, whose parents are both employed outside of work, a more detailed parenting plan template is recommended, in which the child resides with each parent in a 2-2-3 schedule.  Of course, in all recommendations where both parents see the child as much as is consistent with their best interests, it is presumed that each parent is capable for providing care to the child. 

I Perform Shift-Work: Will This Affect My Parenting Time?

For some parents, they may be well capable of caring for their children equally, however cannot do so in accordance with a 2-2-3 schedule , for example, parents who are in the military, or if they must work shifts, i.e. firefighters, nurses, pilots, police officers, ER physicians etc. For example, police officers may work 7-day shifts, with 7-days off. Pilots may work up to 15 irregular days in a month, and are off for 15 or 16 days in a month. The AFCC-O provides that the child of that parent should have regular virtual time while the other parent is deployed or away from home, and should have extended parenting time with that parent when they return home. While this guideline is specifically addressed to military parents in the AFCC-O, the guidance may be equally relevant to other parents working shifts.

Notwithstanding the challenges faced by parents with shift-work schedules, there are some cases in which these parents have been awarded equal parenting time or close thereto. In Van Ruyven v Van Ruyven, 2021 ONSC 5963 where the father was a police officer, on call for 7 days and off for 7 days, the Court did not hesitate to order the parties’ 4-year old child to reside with both parents on approximately a week-about schedule, or a 3-1-3 schedule. In another unreported case, the father, who worked as a pilot, was successful in gradually increasing his time with his child from 2 days a week to 15 days in a month by the child’s 5th birthday. In these cases, one of the parents worked shifts, while the other was primarily a stay-at-home parent, and where the shift work did not compliment a 2-2-3 equal parenting time schedule. In both cases, the Court found it in the child’s best interests to order an equal parenting time schedule, tailored to the parent’s shift work schedule.

For more information about parenting schedules for young children, please contact our Family Law Group and we would be happy to help.

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