The Office of the Children’s Lawyer in a family law court proceeding in Ontario acts as a third party investigator to ascertain the views and preferences of children and to assist parents in serious parental disputes related to decision making and parenting time.
According to the Government of Ontario Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”) website, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) is an independent law office in the Ministry of the Attorney General that delivers justice programs on behalf of children. Lawyers and clinicians whom are usually social workers are hired who act on behalf o the employ lawyers and clinicians (usually social workers) and retain fee-for-service lawyers and clinicians who act on behalf of the OCL throughout Ontario.
The OCL represents the interests of a child under the age of 18 in matters and court cases in Ontario involving:
- parenting time, contact and decision-making responsibility for children
- child protection
- civil cases (for example, personal injury, motor vehicle accidents and medical malpractices)
- estates and trusts
- requests for minors’ funds
Generally speaking, the OCL’s involvement is requested in a family law case, when parties have disputes over parenting time or parental decision making. These are serious disputes related to parties’ that are have conflicted relationships and where generally, one party seeks to be a joint decision maker or a sole decision maker and the other party does not agree. There could also be disputes as to the appropriate level and amount of parenting time that one parent should have with the other. Some other issues of consideration could be the child’s own views and preferences which have become increasingly important in newly enacted family law legislation. For example, a child could be refusing to exercise parenting time with one parent over another.
When these types of issues present themselves in a family law case, an independent third party assessment could be requested of the OCL and ordered by the presiding Judge on a case for the OCL to be appointed and an Order for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer to cause an investigation to be made and a report to be provided as to the recommendations to the court on all matters of decision-making responsibility and parenting time, pursuant to section 89 and/or 112 of the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.C.43.
Once the order is granted and the involvement of the OCL is requested, a form is provided to the OCL by each party’s counsel setting out information about each party, the child, any domestic violence history or children’s aid society involvement history, and the position of each party which needs to be investigated by the OCL. The OCL then will the advise as to whether the case is appropriate for their investigation. Not all cases will be approved for OCL involvement by the OCL.
Once the OCL takes on a case, the parties will have a number of meetings with the OCL which could either be a lawyer appointed directly for the child, or a clinical investigator / social worker. The investigator does collateral research and may have discussions with a number of service provider’s to the child, such as the child’s doctors and school, and review information related to any past history with the children’s aid society, depending on the issues in dispute. On occasion, the OCL will prepare and provide a report to the family and the Court setting out recommendations with respect to the issues in dispute. Those recommendations carry great weight in a case and can be either helpful or detrimental to a party’s position in a case.
To learn more the Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s independent investigation of your parental decision making or parenting time, or the views and preferences of your children, call one of our Toronto Child Custody Lawyers today.