Child custody decisions in British Columbia are governed by the province’s Family Law Act, which mandates that judges weigh a number of factors when making child custody and visitation decisions. Together, the factors provide evidence that is used to weigh what the judge considers to be in the best interests of the child.
In all child custody matters, the child’s best interests is the most significant concern for the courts. Although the wishes of the parents are a factor, it is only one of several that are weighted equally. Courts evaluate the quality of the child’s relationships with both parents, how likely each parent is to promote an ongoing relationship with the other parent and the stability of the individual homes. If a child is of sufficient age and maturity, the court may ask the child what he or she wants as well.
If a history of family violence has been found or if there is a record of criminal proceedings or charges that could impact the child’s health, welfare or safety, the court will strongly take notice. When no such history exists, courts consider all of the other factors to determine the most appropriate placement. Although the ability to cooperate with the other parent and encourage contact is important, it is not a detriment in situations in which requiring such encouragement would pose a danger to the custodial parent or the child. This would include situations in which domestic violence or child abuse has been a significant problem.
Child custody decisions are not arbitrarily made, but parents who do not have histories of violence between them may be able to reach their own agreement. In some cases, of course, it is not possible to do so. In those cases, parents should be prepared with evidence regarding the factors courts consider when making custody decisions.