Article written by Diana Isaac
Co-parenting is no walk in the park. It requires you to engage in regular communication with someone who you may not want to speak with anymore. Even co-parents who do get along well will run into conflict from time-to-time, and troubles often occur when one parent feels as though the other is overstepping their boundaries.
We are frequently asked about information-sharing duties, and how much a parent can ask, or should volunteer about the child, and about what goes on in the home when the child is in one of the parent’s care. We also get questions about whether the other parent gets to know about your personal spending habits, unrelated to the child’s needs, your media activities, or the fact that you met someone new on Tinder.
This article should help give co-parents a clearer idea about the types of information they should expect to share, but keep in mind that when you help set your co-parent up for success, you will also help your child succeed.
Court-Ordered Information Sharing
The line between what must be shared, and what need not be shared, is sometimes a blurry one.
However, anything that a court has ordered you to disclose to the other co-parent falls into the “must share” column. This can include information about the child, as well as information about your lifestyle, personal situation, finances etc., as those items may impact your child.
The court order may cover a one-time swap of information, but it is more likely to require you to exchange information with the co-parent on an ongoing basis. Naturally, you are expected to comply fully with whatever the court directs in this regard.
Relevance To Child’s Best Interests
Beyond that situation, personal and child-related information tends to fall into two different categories:
1. Information that pertains directly to the child and his or her best interests; and
2. Information that you consider to be “personal” to yourself, your home, and your lifestyle, which arguably does not relate to the child you have together.
These are covered separately.
1) Child-related Information
This category covers information that may affect the child’s day-to-day life, care, and well-being. It is information that is needed by both of you as co-parents, to optimally support and promote your child’s best interests.
Although this list is not exhaustive (nor does it automatically pertain to every child or family situation), it usually includes items such as the child’s:
- Daily routines around sleep, mealtimes, diet, dietary restrictions, sensitivities and allergies
- Clothing needs and related special requirements
- School schedules and school-related commitments
- Extracurricular activities such as music lessons, fitness and hobbies, entertainment
- Health care (medical, dental, mental health, physiotherapy, etc.)
- Social activities (playdates, birthday parties)
- Cell phone use and social media activity
- Holidays and travel plans
- Pick-up and drop off arrangements / modes of transportation for all of the above
Unless a court has ordered otherwise, the information can and should be shared freely and comprehensively, using whatever manner best achieves the goal of telling the other co-parent what he or she needs to know.
Many co-parents find that communicating by text message or email is best. Not only does it document the exchange in writing, but it also leaves the least room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
2) Personal Information
This second category of information is a little harder to define. Conceptually, it refers to information that is personal to you, but not directly related to your child and his or her care, upbringing or well-being.
However, the truth is that virtually everything that happens in your home may in some way impact your child and his or her well-being.
Of course Canadian family law does not mandate that your entire life be an “open book” to the other parent, simply because you still co-parent a child together. In other words, a co-parent is not entitled to intrude into your non-child-related personal business if it does not impact your child’s best interests.
As with virtually all matters that impact your legal rights and obligations concerning your child, the governing test is what is in his or her “best interests”. This determination will vary from family to family, and will often change over time as family needs evolve.
Assuming that the items listed below do not directly or indirectly impact the child’s care, financial support, best interests, welfare, or day-to-day needs, and are not part of a court order, the items that are typically excluded from a co-parent’s “right-to-know” list can include your:
- Personal medical and health appointments
- Work-related information (again, unless they may impact on child support rights / obligations or childcare arrangements)
- Spending habits that do not affect the child
- Social events, volunteerism and activism
- Vacation time
- Social media activity
Friendships and romantic relationships deserve special mention. Although the law does not allow the other co-parent to intrude on or actively meddle in your personal relationships, your child’s exposure to new people in your life can impact them (positively or negatively). The fact that you have new or existing relationships or friendships can be a legitimate concern for the other co-parent – or become one over time. Again, this will be driven by what is in the best interests of your child.
With all that said, we always encourage as much communication, openness, disclosure and transparency between co-parents as possible, to the extent it is appropriate and beneficial to your situation. Every child benefits when his or her parents can cooperate with each other, even after a separation or divorce.
Unfortunately, there is rarely one clear answer to the question of what a co-parent is and is not entitled to know. Each situation is different.
If you are uncertain as to what your information-sharing obligations may be, it is important to get the advice of an experienced family lawyer before the issue becomes contentious.