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What You Need to Know About Child Custody

All divorces are difficult; even more so when children are involved. You no doubt have many questions – “How do I get custody? “ “What steps should I take to protect myself and my child?” “How does my income matter?” You should tell your lawyer any concerns you have about custody issues, but here are three quick insights from a Toronto family lawyer who has handled thousands of custody cases and has been trusted by clients for more than 18 years:

1. Don’t leave home without them.

Never vacate your family home without taking your children with you. Parents who have left their children behind have consequently found themselves at an automatic disadvantage in court. The ‘status quo’ is a crucial factor in a custody case, and since you may not actually see a judge for three to four months after your initial consultation with your lawyer, the court may look more favourably on the other parent who has been primarily caring for the children since the date of separation. This is particularly true if the current situation appears to be working for the children; judges often to take an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach to existing custody arrangements.

2. In cases of abuse, act quickly and consistently.

When domestic violence or other abuse is involved, it’s all the more important to vacate the home immediately and take your kids with you. It’s also crucial that you act in a way that is consistent with any claims of abuse. In family law cases, judges are often faced with a “he said, she said” situation and will look at the ‘given truths’ or facts behind allegations of violence. For example, if you are asserting that your spouse has been violent and abusive, but then leave your children with him or her, you undermine the credibility of your claims in the eyes of the court. Similarly, if you are claiming that the other parent has refused your requests for access to your child, but you’ve waited many months or even years to come to court, a judge is less likely to believe your claim.

3. It’s not all about your income.

In Toronto, as elsewhere, divorces and custody cases happen to people of all income levels. Contrary to what you might think, parents who have lower incomes or are on welfare are not at a disadvantage simply because of their financial situation. Custody judgements are about the “best interests of the children,” and those interests involve many factors other than income. The court will look at who has actually been handling the day-to-day basics of child care over the long term. As noted above, the court will also look at the ‘status quo” to determine if it is working well for the child. If you prove that you have consistently been the primary caregiver and have a closer bond with your children, you will have the stronger custody case regardless of how much – or how little ̶ money you have.

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