The Office of the Children’s Lawyer is an independent law office housed with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. Lawyers and social workers are part of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, as clinicians throughout the province who provide fee-for-service representation to the Office.
How is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer involved in family law cases?
In family law matters, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, if they decide to become involved, may provide:
- A lawyer to represent the child or children;
- A clinician to write a report for the court; or
- Both a lawyer and a clinician.
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer will also represent children under 18 in other legal proceedings, including civil cases, estates, and trust matters.
When will Office of the Children’s Lawyer become involved in a family law case?
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer will only become involved in a case if the court orders it or in certain Children’s Aid Society procedures.
A court may order that the Office of the Children’s Lawyer appoints a lawyer to represent a child or that the Office of the Children’s Lawyer assigns a clinician to provide a report. This order may be made on the consent of the parties, at the request of one party, or because a judge thinks it is necessary under the circumstances.
When such an order is made, the parties must send it to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. The parties then have 14 days to complete their Parenting and Contact Order Intake Form and send it to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.
Once the intake form is received by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, the Office will decide if they will appoint a lawyer, a clinician, or neither. This usually takes several weeks. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer has finite resources and may decide not to take on a particular case for many reasons. Potential reasons may include: the child is outside of Ontario, a mediation is pending, a parenting assessment was recently completed, there are serious mental health concerns for the parents and/or the children, and no mental health assessments have been done, parenting issues are not the primary issues in the case, there are allegations of abuse such as the Children’s Aid Society should be investigating or is already investigating.
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer may appoint a lawyer for a child who is old enough to voice their views and preferences when the Children’s Aid Society asks a family to participate in alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, or an Indigenous process, such as a talking circle.
What does a lawyer appointed by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer do?
If a lawyer is assigned to a case, the lawyer does not file a report with the court as a clinician would. The lawyer will, for example, meet with the parents or other relevant parties, meet with the child, try to determine the child’s wishes and take a position on behalf of the child within the court proceedings. This position will be informed by the child’s views and preferences and other information the lawyer has gathered about the family.
What kinds of reports does the Office of the Children’s Lawyer provide?
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer provides two main kinds of reports: a children’s lawyer report and a voice of the child report.
Children’s Lawyer Report
A children’s lawyer report is intended to help a court decide what parenting time arrangements, decision-making responsibility, or contact arrangements are in the best interests of the child or children in a specific case. These reports are prepared by a clinician such as a social worker or psychologist.
The clinician assigned to the case will take the following steps to prepare the children’s lawyer report:
- The clinician will meet with the parents or other parties in the case (for instance, in a contact case about grandparent access, the clinician would also meet with the grandparents)
- The clinician will meet with the child or children as many times as the clinician believes is necessary
- The clinician may decide to observe the child or children with their caregivers
- The clinician will seek out information from other sources such as teachers, doctors, therapists, coaches, family friends, etc.
The clinician will meet with the parents/parties to provide feedback and may provide recommendations for improving the situation (called a “disclosure meeting”). This step is not mandatory; a clinician will not always schedule a disclosure meeting.
The clinician will then write a detailed report that will include their investigation findings and recommendations. This report is shared with the parties and is filed with the court. If a party disputes anything in the report, the party has 30 days to file a statement disputing it.
Voice of the Child Report
A voice of the child report is less extensive than a children’s lawyer report. This shorter report summarizes what a child or children say about an issue in the case related to parenting time, decision-making responsibility, or contact. This helps a court to determine the views and preferences of the child or children, as this is a factor for consideration in the child’s best interests.
For this report, the assigned clinician will schedule and undertake two interviews with the child or children, then complete a report sent to the parties and the court.
How long does it take a clinician to prepare a report?
The typical timeline for a clinician to complete an investigation for a children’s lawyer report is 90-120 days. The timeline for a voice of the child report is 30 days.
What if the Office of the Children’s Lawyer refuses to get involved in a case?
Getting a court order for the involvement of the Office of the Children’s lawyer is not a guarantee that the Office will take the case. There is no formal appeal process if the Office of the Children’s Lawyer declines involvement in a case. Still, a party can request reconsideration by sending a letter to the Office. This reconsideration should include why the Office of the Children’s Lawyer should get involved in the case and any new information.
The parties can agree to hire a clinician to write a voice of the child report. The parties would then sign a contract with a qualified third party to meet with the children and write a report at the parties’ cost.
Contact the Windsor Family Law Lawyers at Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors for Advice on Parenting Issues
The experienced family lawyers at Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors focus exclusively on family law matters and regularly assist clients in resolving complex parenting issues, including parenting time, third-party contact, and decision-making responsibility. Our family law team provides clients with honest advice tailored to your unique circumstances so you know what to expect throughout the process and understand your rights and obligations, particularly before agreeing to contractual terms. To discuss your matter with a family law team member, please contact us online or at 519.973.1500.