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The terms "primary parent," "majority of parenting time," "shared parenting time," and "split parenting time" are used to describe the division of parenting. What do these mean?

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Child support

In Canada, under the Federal Child Support Guidelines (used when computing child support after a divorce, and in most or all provinces after a separation), the terms are defined as follows:

  • majority of parenting time "means a period of time that is more than 60% of parenting time over the course of a year" (s. 2(1));
  • shared parenting time is when "each spouse exercises not less than 40% of parenting time with a child over the course of a year" (s. 9)
  • split parenting time describes a situation where "there are two or more children, and each spouse has the majority of parenting time with one or more of those children" (s. 8).

Which of these regimes a couple falls into is significant because it changes the approach to computing the amount owing for child support.

"Primary parent" outside of child support

Outside of the computation of child support, there is no concrete definition for what makes someone a "primary parent." Parenting arrangements or orders will just describe the division of parenting responsibilities, such as who has day-to-day care, control, and supervision of the child; decisions about residence, friends, activities, education, medical treatment, etc. Typically though, when the phrase "primary parent" is used, it describes the person with day-to-day care, control, and supervision of the child. But this isn't a descriptor that can be applied universally to the relationship. For example, a person might have "primary parenting of the children over the holiday" (Wilson v Wilson, 2023 ONSC 3387, at para 163). Some courts are careful to place the term in quotes to emphasize that it isn't a precise term (e.g. "she puts great stock in being the 'primary parent'": Begum v Klippenstein, 2023 ONSC 2970 at para 86).

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    Not from Canada: I would use "primary parent" as "first person to contact in case of an emergency." E.g. if one parent is more likely to be available during kindergarten they would be the "primary" parent regardless of how much time they spend with children. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 7:45
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    @user3819867 that's the practical term, not the legal one. There are often differences.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 7:52
  • @jwenting If there's no legal definition or specific precedent then it would be what a reasonable person would assume it means, wouldn't it? Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 8:15
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    Canada does better than the UK in this regard - UK government guidance uses words like "equally" with no stated margin, where Canada has 50:50 ±10%.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 15:20

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