Decision-Making & Parenting Time


Decision-making (previously called custody) is the right to make important decisions about how to care for and raise a child.

For example:

  • the child’s school and educational programs,
  • the child’s religion,
  • where the child will live,
  • other activities for the child, such as sports, tutoring, and music lessons,
  • the child’s legal name, and
  • health care decisions for the child.

Decision-making is not about which parent the child lives with or how much time a child spends with each parent. For example, even if only one parent has decision-making rights, the child might spend equal time living with each parent. On the other hand, the child might live mainly with one parent, but both parents share the decision-making.

What are the different types of decision-making?


Joint Decision-Making

Joint decision-making means that both parents must agree on major decisions that affect their child. One parent cannot decide these things without the agreement of the other. If they disagree, they must find a way to resolve it.

Courts do not like to order joint decision-making if parents cannot make these decisions together. Joint decision-making works best when parents share similar ideas about how to raise their children. It takes a lot of cooperation.

Sometimes, parents with joint decision-making divide up the decision-making. For example, one parent may make medical decisions, while the other may make educational decisions.

Sole Decision-Making

If one parent has sole decision-making, he or she can make all of the important decisions about the child, even if the other parent disagrees. Sometimes, the parent with sole decision-making must talk to the other parent before making the decision.

Some people assume that if a parent with sole decision-making dies, the other parent automatically takes over that role. This is not always true.

A parent with sole decision-making can choose who will have custody of their children for the first 90 days after their death. The person they choose, or anyone else, can apply to the court to have decision-making authority after that.

Parenting Time

Parenting time (previously called access) refers to the amount of parenting time each parent has with their children.

A parent with parenting time also has the right to ask for and be given information about their child’s health, education, and well-being from the parent or other providers, such as schools and hospitals. However, for some health information requests, such as hospital records, the parent with sole decision-making may need to give their written consent first.

What are some of the different types of parenting time?

Reasonable Parenting Time

If the parents can cooperate, parenting time arrangements can be left open and flexible instead of having a detailed schedule. This is sometimes referred to reasonable acees or liberal and generous access. This allows the parents to make arrangements that can easily be changed if the situation changes.

Fixed Parenting Time

Sometimes, the terms of parenting time include a specific and detailed schedule. This is often called fixed or specified parenting time. The terms may cover things like holidays, long weekends, children’s birthdays, and religious occasions. They may include where access will take place, who is responsible for dropping them off, or other conditions.

Supervised Parenting Time

In some situations, access may need to be supervised by another person. For example, supervised access might be ordered if the parent:

  • has a drinking or drug problem,
  • has abused the child in the past, or
  • has threatened or tried to take the child away from the other parent.

The person who supervises might be a relative, a friend, a social worker, a worker at a supervised access center, or a children’s aid worker.

No Parenting Time

In the most extreme cases, a parent might not have any parenting time with their child. For example, this could happen when serious child neglect or abuse has been proven, or where a child’s safety cannot be protected.