Following a couple’s divorce or separation, one of the most difficult situations to work through could be how parenting time is arranged between the parties if they have children. In the best situations, these matters may be resolved without requiring litigation. However, as we see in a recent decision from the Provincial Court of Alberta, altering these arrangements can be difficult.
Father’s parenting time gradually increases over time
The parents were in a relationship when the child was born in June 2014. While the parents were not living together when the child was born, the father was active in her life from the outset. The father worked in an oilfield and was away for extended periods, but would visit with the child every third time when he was home. By the time the child was two years old, the visits had grown longer and the father had eventually kept the child once overnight.
During the child’s third year, she started to stay with the father every other weekend when he was home. While the parents did go to court during this period, the matter was in relation to child support as opposed to parenting time. A court order eventually established that the mother would have primary parenting time with the child and would be responsible for all decision-making powers, but that the father would have parenting time on weekends when he was home.
Father is laid off and spends more time at home
Shortly before the pandemic, the father was laid off from his job, which resulted in his moving back home and eventually looking for work in another field. The mother was also working and the child’s schooling had stopped due to COVID-19. This led to the parents deciding to share parenting time equally. The parents agreed that this arrangement worked out well for everybody involved.
Mother looks to revert to original parenting plan
The child returned to school to attend Grade 1 in August 2020. Following this, the other decided that she no longer wanted to continue with a shared parenting regime and sought to return to a plan where the father would have parenting time with the child every other weekend. The father, however, sought a court order to formalize the parents’ equal parenting time.
However, in order to do so, the court stated it would have to find that there had been a material change in circumstances as stipulated in the province’s Family Law Act.
The court listed a number of factors that contributed to a material change, stating:
- The child is now older and is now going into Grade 2, so is more mature and independent.
- The Father has created a stable home mainly because he has been in a common-law relationship with (his new partner) for three years, and (his new partner) has a three and one-half-year-old daughter. (The child) has a good and beneficial relationship with both (the father’s new partner) and (her child).
- The parties have successfully made many negotiated changes to their parenting arrangements since the old court order of 2017.
- The parties agreed to have 50/50 parenting for the spring and summer of 2020, which worked very well.
- The Father has changed careers so that he now has a job with regular hours, and does not travel out of town for work, so has more time available to parent (the child).
The best interests of the child are paramount
After finding that there had been a material change in circumstances, the court then had to consider whether a 50/50 parenting time split would be in the best interests of the child. This includes considering the maximum contact principle, which asks the court to consider how maximum parenting time can best be achieved.
The court stated that the child is fortunate to have two capable parents who love her and want to be involved in her life, and found that a shared parenting plan would be in her best interest.
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