Making plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce


Parenting is one of the most important jobs you'll ever have. Your children are depending on you to guide them to adulthood. You want to do what's best for them.

Parenting can be difficult, even when parents live together. After separation or divorce, parenting can be more challenging. But your children's basic needs don't change. They still need security, stability and nurturing.

Is this guide for me?

This guide is for parents. It contains helpful information about parenting after separation and divorce.

The federal Divorce Act generally applies when divorcing parents need to settle issues related to parenting arrangements. Provincial and territorial laws apply regarding parenting arrangements when unmarried parents separate or when married parents separate and do not pursue a divorce.

You can use this guide if you're making parenting arrangements under the Divorce Act. "Parenting arrangements" are the arrangements parents make for the care of their children after a separation or divorce. This includes arrangements about where the children will live, where they will go to school, their religious education, their medical care, their after school activities and so on.

This guide may still be useful to you even if the Divorce Act does not apply to your situation. The basic decisions that you have to make about parenting arrangements are similar whether you're separating or divorcing.

You may also find this guide helpful if a family member with children is separating or divorcing (for example, if you are a grandparent).

This guide talks about

  • how to decide on the best parenting arrangement for your children
  • what processes you can use to come to a parenting arrangement
  • what you (parents) may be feeling
  • what your children may be feeling

If your children are between the ages of nine and twelve, you may want to suggest that they read the Department of Justice Canada publication What happens next? Information for kids about separation and divorce.

How do I use this guide?

It may be helpful to read this guide from beginning to end—it contains lots of useful information.

Or you can just read the sections that you need. Each section can be read on its own.

Each family is different. Some of the information in this guide may not apply to you and that's O.K.

You can also use this guide to help you complete a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a written document that parents make to outline the parenting arrangements for their children.

There is a Directory of Resources at the end of this guide that has useful websites and contact information.

Court is the last resort

When relationships end, most parents agree on how they will parent their children without going to court. It's generally best for everyone—especially children—when parents can agree. Asking a judge to make the decisions for you can be costly, time-consuming and stressful for everyone.

But, in some situations, you may have to go to court. For example, if you have concerns about safety and you need a court order for protection.

Who can help me?

There are many people who can help you agree on parenting arrangements. For example, mediators, counsellors and accountants often work with parents. Also, every province and territory offers services for separating or divorcing parents, including parent information programs. To see a list of these services, look at Inventory of Government-based Family Justice Services.

For more information on who can help, please see the Directory of Resources.

Do I need legal advice?

This guide has general information about parenting after separation or divorce. It doesn't provide legal advice.

Family law issues can be complex. A family law lawyer can give you legal advice about all the different factors that are important in your situation. When you are developing a parenting plan, it's important to speak with a family law lawyer to make sure you understand

  • your legal rights and responsibilities
  • options for resolving differences between you and the other parent
  • how the court system works

What if I can't afford a lawyer?

  • You may wish to contact your local legal aid office to see if you qualify for legal aid. You can search the Internet for "legal aid" and your city or area. For example, search "legal aid" and "Alberta."
  • If you don't qualify for legal aid, you may wish to contact a lawyer referral service

What if I have more questions?

If you have questions this guide doesn't answer, you can find more information under "Supporting Families" on the Department of Justice Canada website at You can also call the Department's Family Law Information Line at 1-888-373-2222.

You can also contact a provincial or territorial public legal education and information (PLEI) organization. PLEI organizations provide information to the public about many different areas of law, including family law.

If you're worried about safety

If you or your children have been abused or feel unsafe around the other parent, you need to put safety first. Children who are abused can have long-term physical or mental health problems. This is also true for children who see or hear abuse between other family members.

If you're concerned about your safety or your children's safety, please see Section 6: Special Issues, for more information on family violence. You should also note that some of the information in this guide may not be appropriate in your case.

Help is available. You can find links to resources related to safety in the Directory of Resources at the end of this guide.

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