Child Custody and Access

Both legislation and Judge-made precedent in Nova Scotia clearly states that arrangements between parents in terms of custody and access are dictated on the best interests of the child. This is the overriding criteria, however the Courts look at a number of factors in making a decision on the issue. In recent years the Courts in Nova Scotia have veered away somewhat from the traditional arrangement whereby one parent is the primary custodial parent and the other is the access parent. These days, if both parents are able to reasonably work together to take joint responsibility and care for the children of the relationship, and if the parents live somewhat close to each other and to the children’s schools, then there is a preference to have a shared custody arrangement.

Much confusion arises in dealing with issues of custody and access as to the terms of joint and sole custody versus the terms of primary custody and shared custody. Joint custody refers to joint decision-making authority over the children between the parents. Sole custody means that one parent makes the decisions. This has to do with the bigger decisions, such as health care, education, religious upbringing, etc., as opposed to the smaller, daily decisions, such as what to feed the kids for dinner. These smaller issues are generally decided by the parent who has the children at that particular time.

Primary custody refers to a situation where one parent has the children the majority of the time (i.e. more than 60% of the time) and the other parent (then sometimes called the access parent) has the children less than 40% of the time. Shared custody refers to an arrangement in which both parents have custody of the children between 40% and 60%. This is sometimes referred to as a 50/50 custody arrangement, because both parents have custody of the children in the ballpark of 50% of the time.

Research suggests that in terms of picking up and dropping off children between one parent and the other, that it is best for the parent with the children to drop them off to the other parent, rather than the other parent picking them up from the parent who already has them. This is because through the act of delivery by one parent to the other, the children are implicitly receiving the message that the parent dropping them off is okay with this transition. This message does not necessarily come through in the same way if the other parent is picking them up.