Overview

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) has in-house clinicians and fee-for-service clinicians throughout Ontario who prepare reports for the court in cases dealing with parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact cases.

A clinician is a mental health professional, usually a social worker, who has knowledge about child development and issues facing families who cannot agree on:

  • how much time a child will spend with each parent or party, called parenting time
  • who will make important decisions for their child, called decision-making responsibility
  • the contact the children will have with a specific person, like a grandparent

What a clinician does

Clinicians with the OCL are authorized by section 112 of the Courts of Justice Act to conduct investigations and prepare reports.

In a parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact case, the clinician may be assigned to complete either:

Assigning a clinician

Once we assign a clinician to your file, we will send you a letter that includes the clinician’s name.

When the clinician contacts you—or your lawyer, if you are represented—they will:

  • introduce themselves
  • briefly explain the process
  • request a copy of all court file documents or endorsements related to parenting time, contact or decision-making responsibility in your case
  • schedule a time to meet with you

The clinician will not ask for your financial documents and you are not required to share them.

Clinician assigned with a lawyer

If your case has been assigned to a lawyer from the OCL under section 89 of the Courts of Justice Act, a clinician may be assigned to assist. The clinician would assist if:

  • there are specific serious clinical concerns that need to be addressed
  • a clinician is necessary, to prepare an affidavit (a written statement that is sworn or affirmed to be true by the person signing it) about your child’s views and preferences

If a clinician is assigned to assist a lawyer in a case, the lawyer and clinician will work together. They often meet with the child and parties together and if needed, with other people who might have information about the case. Any conversations between the child, the lawyer and clinician are protected by solicitor-client privilege.

In cases where there is both a lawyer and clinician assigned, the clinician will not file a report. In some cases, an affidavit from the clinician may be filed as evidence in a case.

We do not appoint clinicians to prepare reports in child protection cases. In an exceptional case, we may appoint a clinician to help a lawyer in a child protection case.

Voice of the child report

In some cases, the clinician will be assigned to only complete a voice of the child report. This is a short report written for the court that summarizes a child’s statements about an issue in their parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact case.

The report is typically done for children over the age of seven.

In this type of report, there are no:

  • formal interviews of the parties
  • observations visits
  • gathering of collateral information
  • disclosure meetings
  • recommendations

Step one: the judge requests a Voice of the Child Report

If the judge makes an order requesting a voice of the child report, the court will identify the issues for the report in the voice of the child endorsement form and send it to the OCL.

Step two: the parties must complete the Voice of the Child Intake forms

The parties will need to:

Step three: the Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s decision

The OCL will review the intake forms and the court order. If your case is accepted, an OCL clinician will be assigned. The OCL will inform all parties and the judge of the decision in writing.

Step four: the development of the Voice of the Child Report

Once the case is accepted the clinician will contact the parties to:

  • introduce themselves
  • describe the process
  • gather limited information about the reason for the referral
  • ask if a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is actively investigating
  • set the date, time and location for the child interviews

Step five: the child interviews

The child or children will have two interviews with the clinician, scheduled for two separate days. Each party is responsible for arranging the interviews with the clinician.

At the end of each interview, the clinician will review the statement with the child to confirm accuracy. The clinician will explain to the child that none of the information gathered during the interviews will be kept confidential. If the child makes a statement of abuse, neglect or maltreatment, the clinician must inform the local Children’s Aid Society.

Step six: completion of the report

The clinician will inform the parties when all the interviews are complete. The report is submitted to the court and sent to the parties within 30 days after the assignment to a clinician.

Children’s lawyer report

This report helps the court determine what parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact arrangements are in the best interests of the child. When preparing a Children’s Lawyer Report, the clinician will ask questions and gather information, so the court understands:

  • everyone’s situation
  • the needs of the child (or children)

The clinician gathers information by asking questions about the child from significant persons in their lives and obtains the parties’ views, opinions and plans for the child.

If assigned to complete a clinician’s report, the clinician will:

  • meet with the parents and any other parties in the case
  • meet with the child as many times as he or she believes is necessary
  • may observe the child with the parents or parties
  • contact relevant sources of information, like teachers, doctors, day care providers, therapists, etc.
  • meet with the parents or parties to provide feedback and may suggest ways to resolve the issues
  • write a report with details of the investigation and recommendations about the issues in the case
  • share the report with the parents or parties
  • file the report with the court

Once the clinician contacts you, it takes approximately 90-120 days to complete the investigation. If there are delays, the clinician may need more time to finish the report.

Release forms

We will seek your permission to contact collateral sources (other sources of information, such as teachers, doctors, day care providers). The clinician will ask you to sign release forms for permission to contact these sources. The release forms allow the clinician to receive information about you or your family, but do not allow the clinician to disclose information about you or your family.

We would prefer that all parties sign the release forms so the clinician can complete the evaluation. When a party or the party with decision-making responsibility refuses to sign a release form, we may end involvement or ask the court for an order allowing us to get this information.

The clinician may ask to speak to a few personal collaterals for the investigation. Family members or friends with meaningful and ongoing contact with the parties and the child are usually the personal collaterals that are approached. The clinician has discretion over which and how many personal collaterals are contacted, when indicated. Generally, family and friends providing collateral information do not require signed release forms, but we will not speak with them without your prior knowledge.

There is no confidentiality. Anything that you, the child, the collaterals or the other party tell us is not confidential and may become part of the final report, except under very special circumstances. Once a report is filed with the court, it is available to be reviewed by members of the public unless the court orders that access to your file or the report is restricted.

If the clinician has information or concerns that a child may be harmed or has been harmed, they are required by law to contact the local children’s aid society.

Party interviews

The clinician will always meet with all the parties named on the Order. The first party interviewed will depend on who responds first or who is available first. Regardless of who is interviewed first, the clinician will make sure that all parties’ concerns are heard.

Party interviews will be conducted in a private place like the clinician’s office or your home. Children should not be present for any of the party interviews. Third parties should also not be present for the party interviews unless there are special circumstances, such as to assist with translation.

Party interviews usually last around one and a half hours but depending on the case history and number of family members, the meetings may be longer.

Scheduling the interview

The clinician will make all reasonable efforts to accommodate your schedule when arranging an interview.

If you are unable to attend at the scheduled time or location, contact the clinician as soon as possible, so they can reschedule your interview.

During the interview

During the first party interview, the clinician will explain the:

  • purpose and process of the investigation
  • time frame
  • clinician’s role and responsibility to the court
  • clinician’s limits of confidentiality (specifically, which information will and will not be included in the report)

During your party interview, the clinician will ask you questions to obtain background information and details about:

  • the current dispute
  • your concerns
  • your history and the child’s history
  • your child
  • the current parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact arrangement
  • the arrangement you would like to have for the child

The clinician will encourage you to provide them with all relevant information so they can get a better understanding of your perspective.

The clinician will interview the parties as many times as necessary. The initial party interview will typically be in-person or by video conference and additional party interviews may happen over the telephone or video conference.

At the end of the first party interview, the clinician will explain the purpose of the upcoming observation visits and arrange a time for an observation visit with you and the child or children. Where possible, the first observation visit will occur in your usual visiting location.

Preparing for the interview

Going through the party interview process can be stressful. The clinicians are aware that sometimes, when people are stressed, they may have trouble remembering information.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the meetings:

  • write down questions you would like to ask the clinician
  • make a list of school, health and other information that you think will be helpful, including names, addresses and telephone numbers
  • ask for information about reading material, separation and divorce workshops, counselling, and other resources
  • tell your children about the process (the clinician can suggest approaches for different age levels)

If there are recorded phone messages, emails, texts, etc. that you would like the clinician to have, you must also give a copy of that information to the other party or their lawyer.

Feel free to contact your clinician to provide any additional information you may have forgotten during your interview. If you have any questions about how the investigation is progressing, you can ask the clinician.

If during the process you and the other party do not come to an agreement concerning the children, the clinical investigator may help arrange a settlement or disclosure meeting which may include you and your lawyers.

Child interviews

Please note that as a result of the COVID-19covid 19 pandemic, clinicians are often meeting with a child by video conference. If a clinician meets with a child in person, they will comply with public health guidelines.

Clinicians who prepare Children's Lawyer reports regularly interview and observe children. The child interview is an opportunity for the clinician to get to know and understand the child. The clinician will interview all the children named on the order, as many times as they think is necessary.

The clinician understands that the child may be experiencing many different feelings about the separation and the family situation. Depending upon the age of the child, the clinician may have the child:

  • engage in structured play
  • draw pictures
  • tell stories in order to talk about their feelings

A parent may bring the child to the child interview but cannot be there during the interview. To prepare your child, you may tell them that the clinician just wants to meet them to get to know them better.

It is best if the interview can be done in a comfortable and familiar environment. Child interviews could occur in:

  • the clinician’s office
  • a room in your home
  • at their school
  • at a private place in the community

If the clinician interviews the child at their school, they do not interview them in their classroom or in front of their peers or teacher.

The clinician will not ask the child:

  • which parent they want to live with
  • to take sides about parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact arrangements
  • to choose between parents

If a child is not speaking yet, the clinician will not interview the child, but may observe the child at a daycare or preschool.

Observation visit

An observation visit is an opportunity for the clinician to observe a child’s interactions within the family. During your first interview, the clinician will provide information about how to explain to the child who the clinician is and what the clinician will do.

Observation visits usually take place after the first party interviews have been held with all the parties.

The first observation visit will usually take place in the child’s primary home. If parenting time takes place at a supervised access centre, the observation visits will take place at the centre rather than at your home.

The clinician will hold an observation visit with all the children listed on the order, except in very special circumstances. All those who normally reside in the home should be present during an observation visit. No one else should be present except for partners.

The clinician will not force the child to attend an observation visit with anyone. If a child is refusing to attend an observation visit with a party, the clinician may decide to interview the child before an observation visit takes place. In cases where the child has not had contact with a party for a long time, the clinician will decide whether it is necessary to end the investigation or pause the investigation, to prepare the child or children for an observation visit.

At the visit, the clinician may ask the family to do an activity. The activity is usually something the family does on a regular basis, such as making crafts or playing board games. Families are asked not to watch television or use items like cell phones during the observation visits.

Observation visits usually last one and a half hours in length but may be longer. There may be more than one observation visit with each party. The clinician will hold an observation visit as many times as they believe necessary.

Discontinued report

If a party refuses to participate in this process or refuses to allow the child to participate in the process, the OCL may end their involvement with the case and a discontinued report may be given to the court. A discontinued report tells the court the reasons the investigation had to stop.

Disclosure meeting

At the conclusion of a clinical investigation, the clinician may arrange a disclosure meeting with the parties. Sometimes, a disclosure meeting may not be held due to time limitations or other circumstances.

During a disclosure meeting, the clinician will give you a summary of the investigation and what they have learned. They may also tell you about their recommendations and the reasons for those recommendations.

The disclosure meeting may assist you in coming to a settlement on your own. If you settle the case before you hear back from us, please notify your clinician.

Preparing the report

The report provides a picture of your family’s history, current situation and each party’s parenting plans based on the information gathered in the investigation. After the clinician finishes their investigation, they prepare a report and file it with the court. This is called a Children's Lawyer Report.

The clinician usually makes recommendations about ongoing parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact. The recommendations will highlight factors for the judge to consider when they are determining what will best meet the child’s needs.

The clinician is aware of the importance of ensuring each party has a full and fair opportunity to speak with the clinician. We have a responsibility to allow the other party to respond to all the information you provide to us. If the clinician spends more time with one party, the reason for this will be noted in the report.

Once the report is complete

Once the clinician completes the report, it will be filed with the court and mailed or emailed to the parties or their lawyers.

The judge receives the report and if your case goes to a hearing or trial, the report will become part of the evidence. The judge, not the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, makes the final decision regarding parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact with respect to the child.

You or your lawyer may also cross-examine the clinician at the trial or before the trial in a special examiner’s office. A special examiner’s office is a private office that lawyers use to question a witness, under oath, outside of the court room. A court reporter will record the questions and answers.

If you have a lawyer, you should discuss your options with them.

Issues with the report

If you disagree with the recommendations of the report or think there is an error, you can make your concerns known to the court at your next court appearance. Once the clinician has given you a copy of the report, you have 30 days to serve and file a statement disputing anything in the report (see rule 21 of the Family Law Rules).

If you have any additional questions after the report has been filed with the court, please contact the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

Contact

Office of the Children's Lawyer
393 University Avenue, 14th Floor
Toronto, ON M5G 1E6

Email: OCL.Inquiries@ontario.ca

Tel: 416-314-8000
Fax: 416-314-8050

Updated: October 27, 2021
Published: May 20, 2021