Why Ontario Child Custody Laws Aren’t What You See on TV


Woody Allen once said, “Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.” While Allen might have insights on other aspects of life, in this case, he’s wrong. Much of what we know about divorce and child custody issues come from television shows (good or bad). However, many people don’t realize those shows aren’t accurate. Read on to learn about how Ontario child custody laws differ from what you see on TV.

How TV Portrays Divorce and Custody Battles

Parents frequently remind children that what they see on television isn’t real. Superman can’t really jump over buildings in a single bound. Bugs Bunny is a cartoon – he doesn’t actually exist.

But what happens when kids (and parents) see depictions of divorce and custody battles on television? The actors in these shows are played by human beings. The situations they find themselves in certainly look real. The courtrooms seem authentic, don’t they?

What kids and parents alike must remember is that television, even if the show features actors and not cartoon characters, dramatizes everything (including situations that can already be quite dramatic, such as divorce and custody battles).

The popular medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” offers an excellent example of this type of exaggeration. Two characters battle over the custody of their daughter in court. Witnesses are called. One of the parents has to leave the trial to go save a patient’s life (a common occurrence for doctors).

Viewers might be asking, “Could that really happen to me in Ontario?” Read on to learn more.

Custody Laws in Ontario

On TV, when parents go to court to argue over child custody, the show makes it sound as though child custody determines with whom the child will live. While living arrangements are part of custody, they don’t make up the whole picture.

The legal definition of custody is the right to make important decisions about a child’s wellbeing. These decisions include how the child will be educated, what religion the child will adhere to, and yes, where the child will live.

But just because one parent has custody doesn’t mean that the child can’t spend equal time with both parents. And both parents could conceivably have custody, even though the child only lives with one of them.

Another aspect that TV gets wrong is that divorced dads can’t be good fathers. The vast majority of the portrayals of single fathers on television are of widowers, not of men who have divorced. In Ontario, either parent could gain custody of the child, provided it was in the child’s best interests. That means Billy could wind up living with his father if his father could offer a more stable, loving, healthy environment for him.

If You Saw It on TV, It Might Not Actually Be True

To amp up the drama, divorced couples always seem to head to court when it’s time to figure out custody. It’s understandable – it keeps viewers glued to their seats.

Ontario laws offer couples more options than just going to court to duke it out. Exes can create a parenting plan that specifies important information such as who gets the right to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare and what those decisions should be. Only if parents can’t agree does the case go to court.

Turn to a Family Law Expert for Guidance about Child Custody Issues

If you and your ex are going through a divorce, don’t rely on television shows for information about Ontario child custody laws. Instead, consult with an experienced family law expert to learn about what your rights are and how to proceed.

Galbraith Family Law lawyers are trained in Collaborative Practice, and we have been named the top firm by the Barrie Examiner multiple times. Our legal insights have also been featured in the Globe and Mail, as well as Lawyers Weekly.

Click here to contact us, or to schedule a consultation. Or you can call the local office listed at the top of the page.

Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.