Children and Divorce

We are concerned about the effect of our divorce on our children. What can we do to ease the strain on them?

Divorce is very difficult for children.  It will certainly change their world forever.

There is an increased awareness of the effect of divorce and conflict on children and an emphasis on trying to help families through this difficult time.  In Alberta, it is now mandatory for parents who file for divorce or start proceedings under the Family Law Act, where child support, custody, access, parenting or contact is an issue to take a seminar called “Parenting After Separation”.  The plaintiff or applicant parent must give the other parent a “Notice of Mandatory Seminar” in a standard form at the same time as the divorce petition or other court documents starting proceedings are delivered. Most parents who live within 150 kilometers of an Alberta city or town can take these seminars at a location near them.

There are different time requirements for attendance at the seminar.  Depending on your location, for example, near major centres, the seminar must be taken within 3 months of proceedings being started. For parents in Brooks, Camrose, Hinton and Jasper the time limit is 4 months. Note that parents of children under the age of 16 who live within 150 kilometers of the Judicial of Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, may not begin an application for interim support, custody, access, parenting or contact until they have attended the seminar.

As of July 20, 2015 the Parenting After Separation Seminar is available online in Alberta.  Now, all Alberta parents have the option of completing the traditional seminar or the online seminar.

A certificate of attendance must be filed with the Clerk of the Court. Until the Clerk receives proof of attendance, no case can be set down for trial, application heard by a judge, or desk divorce applied for. Non-attending parents may have their documents struck out or be refused permission to make submissions at an application or trial.

Last updated: August 2015

Are there any exceptions to the rule about the mandatory Parenting After Separation Seminars?

Yes, there are some exceptions.  First of all, the program does not apply to parents where the children are all 16 years of age or older.

If an application for interim custody or parenting is being brought where:

  • a restraining order due to domestic violence has been granted: or
  • there is an allegation of kidnapping or abduction; or
  • one parent has unilaterally made a change in the existing custody of a child,

then an applicant can bring an application without first attending the seminar. However, even in these circumstances, the applicant must attend the seminar within two weeks of filing the application and must have registered in the seminar and provided his or her proposed date of attendance to the Clerk of the Court before filing any documents in the application.

There may be other extraordinary cases where a parent can apply for an exemption from attending the Seminar and these cases will be decided by a judge on an individual basis upon application to the court. There is a special form that can be used for these applications.

Added: August 2015

Should the children be consulted about what will happen?

This depends on the age of the children. If they are 12 or older, they should probably be consulted about their living arrangements, but as parents the final decision is yours to make.

Last reviewed: August 2015

Will our children have to go to court if we have a contested divorce?

No, children do not have to go to court. They do not have to choose sides and give evidence for one parent against another. In some exceptional circumstances, a judge may ask to speak to a child if custody is in dispute. If this happens (it is rare), the judge meets with the child in his or her private office and tries to keep the discussion relaxed and informal. The judge wants to understand the child’s feelings and wishes about custody and living arrangements and will consider what the child wants, but the final decision will be based on the best interests of the child, considering the whole family situation.

Last reviewed: August 2015

My children are older. How does the Divorce Act define a child?

The Divorce Act defines a “child of the marriage” as a child who is

  • under the age of majority (18 or 19 depending upon which province) or
  • older but is still in his or her parent’s care and control because of illness, disability, or some other reason such as pursuing “reasonable education”.

Last reviewed: August 2015

Are there other resources available to help parents and children?

Yes, there are many other resources.  They exist in the form of websites, such as the Government of Canada’s resource Making Plans: A guide to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce. You can also look for books at your local library, consider counselling and mediation services, and courses about communicating.  Here are some other helpful links:

Added: August 2015

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