Child Custody and Support in Toronto Divorces

Child Custody in Toronto Divorces 

In Ontario, the primary focus in any child custody arrangement is the child’s best interests:

Types of Custody 

  1. Sole Custody: One parent has the exclusive right to make important decisions about the child’s life, including education, health care, and religion.  This arrangement is less common and usually results when one parent is deemed unfit or unavailable to participate in these decisions effectively.
  2. Joint Custody: Both parents share the decision-making responsibilities for the child.  It requires a cooperative effort and communication between the parents regarding major life decisions.  Joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time, but rather an equal say in decisions.
  3. Shared Custody: This arrangement refers to the child spending at least 40% of their time with each parent.  Shared custody allows for substantial involvement in the child’s daily life by both parents.  It often requires close proximity and a high level of cooperation between the parents.
  4. Split Custody: Applicable to families with multiple children, split custody means one parent has sole custody of some children, and the other parent has custody of the rest.  This arrangement is rare and typically pursued only when it’s in the best interest of each child.

Factors Courts Consider 

When determining custody, courts meticulously evaluate several factors, all centered on the child’s best interests.  These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The child’s emotional ties with each parent and other family members 
  • The parent’s ability to provide the child with guidance, education, and necessities 
  • The parent’s ability to act in the child’s best interests 
  • The child’s preferences, if they are of an age to express a reasonable preference 
  • Any history of family violence or abuse 

For example, if one parent has been the primary caregiver and has a stronger emotional bond with the child, the court might lean towards granting custody to that parent, assuming all other factors are equal.  However, if the other parent has historically taken more interest in the child’s educational needs and extracurricular activities, this could also significantly influence the court’s decision.

Legal Process for Determining Custody 

The process of determining custody begins with mediation efforts to encourage parents to reach an agreement amicably:

  1. Mediation: A neutral third party helps the parents attempt to reach an agreement on custody and visitation rights.
  2. Family Assessments: If mediation does not result in an agreement, family assessments may be conducted.  These involve social workers or psychologists evaluating the family situation and making recommendations to the court.
  3. Court Proceedings: Should mediation and assessments fail to produce a mutually agreeable solution, the matter will go to court.  Here, evidence is presented, and after considering all the factors, a judge will make a final decision on custody.

Child Support in Ontario

Understanding Child Support Guidelines 

The Ontario Child Support Guidelines are designed to establish clear and consistent rules for calculating child support.  These guidelines serve to:

  • Ensure that children benefit from the financial means of both parents. 
  • Provide specific formulas and tables for determining the amount of support, based on the income of the payor parent and the number of children. 
  • Address different custody arrangements, recognizing that the financial responsibilities may shift depending on how much time the child spends with each parent. 

The guidelines apply to all parents in Ontario, regardless of their income level, though there are special provisions for high-income earners (those earning over $150,000 annually) and cases involving shared or split custody.

Calculating Child Support 

Calculating child support begins with identifying the gross annual income of the payor parent.  The basic monthly support amount is then determined using the applicable table in the guidelines, which varies by province and the number of children.  Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Determine the Payor’s Gross Annual Income: This includes salary, wages, bonuses, dividends, and any other form of income.
  2. Consult the Child Support Table: Find the basic monthly amount corresponding to the payor’s income and the number of children.
  3. Adjust for Custody Arrangements: In shared custody situations, where the child spends at least 40% of the time with each parent, the support amounts may be adjusted based on the incomes of both parents and the increased costs of shared custody.

For example, if a parent earns $60,000 annually and has two children, the basic child support amount would be determined by looking up these details in the Ontario Child Support Table.

Adjustments and Modifications 

Child support amounts are not set in stone; they can be adjusted as circumstances change.  Key reasons for seeking modifications include:

  • Changes in the Payor’s Income: Significant increases or decreases in income can warrant a recalculation of support amounts.
  • Changes in Custody Arrangements: A shift in how much time the child spends with each parent may require adjustments.
  • Changes in the Child’s Needs: As children grow, their needs and associated costs may change, potentially impacting support amounts.

The process for adjusting child support typically involves:

  1. Mutual Agreement: Parents may agree to modify the support amount in light of new circumstances and formalize the agreement through court.
  2. Court Application: If parents cannot agree, the party seeking the modification must apply to the court, providing evidence of the changed circumstances.


Protecting Your Rights and Your Children’s Well-being

Seeking Legal Advice 

The complexity of family law, especially within the context of Toronto divorces, makes obtaining legal advice from an experienced Toronto lawyer invaluable.  A lawyer specializing in these matters can offer critical insights and guidance on:

  • Navigating Custody and Support Issues: An experienced lawyer understands the intricacies of custody arrangements and child support guidelines in Ontario.
  • Legal Representation and Advocacy: In court proceedings or negotiations, having a legal advocate ensures your voice is heard and your case is presented compellingly.

Documentation and Preparation 

A well-prepared case is foundational to achieving favorable outcomes in custody and support discussions.  Effective preparation involves:

  • Gathering Important Documents: Compile financial statements, income tax returns, evidence of child-related expenses, and any communication pertaining to custody discussions or agreements.
  • Presenting Your Case: Organize your arguments and evidence logically.  Highlight your involvement in your child’s life, your ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, and any factors that support your custody and support positions.

Collaborative Approaches 

Collaborative law and mediation offer pathways to resolving custody and support issues outside the traditional adversarial court system, emphasizing the best interests of the child. Collaborative law and mediation allow for more flexible, tailor-made arrangements that reflect the unique needs and circumstances of your family. Choosing a collaborative approach does not mean you forego legal representation.