Overview

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. We employ lawyers and clinicians (usually social workers) and retain fee-for-service lawyers and clinicians who act on behalf of the office throughout Ontario.

We represent 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

In family law cases dealing with decision-making authority, parenting time and contact with a child, we deliver the following services:

We do not:

  • get involved in cases before they go to court other than in pre-court child protection alternative dispute resolution cases and certain civil and estates cases
  • represent youth in criminal or youth court
  • decide what is in a child’s best interests
  • enforce support order cases (visit the Family Responsibility Office website for information on child support matters)
  • give a parent or caregiver legal advice, other than parents under age 18 in child protection cases
  • provide advice about education law
  • provide advice about immigration law
  • provide advice about mental health law
  • provide social assistance

You may wish to contact Justice for Children and Youth for help with these types of matters.

Parenting time and decision-making responsibility

In cases involving parenting time, contact and decision-making responsibility for a child, the court may need information about the child’s views, preferences and circumstances. Decision-making responsibility refers to the right and authority to make significant decisions about a child’s life and well-being about issues such as education, medical treatment and religious upbringing. Parenting time and contact refer to the time a child spends in the care of their parent (in the case of parenting time) or another person (in the case of contact). In some cases, parenting time or contact may be restricted to supervised contact or by videoconferencing, telephone or other methods.

When courts ask the Office of the Children’s Lawyer to help, we may provide:

  • a lawyer to represent the child
  • a clinician (generally a social worker) to meet with the family and write a report for the court
  • both a lawyer and a clinician

An OCL lawyer will generally take a position that is consistent with a child’s views and preferences. A clinician preparing a Children’s Lawyer Report will make recommendations to the parties and court about what they believe would be in a child’s best interests.

Both lawyers and clinicians will work with the parties to try to reach an agreement that they believe will work best for the children. If the parties can’t agree, the court will decide what is in the child’s best interests.

Learn more about our role in parenting time and decision-making responsibility cases.

Child protection

Child protection cases usually start when a child protection agency believes a child needs protection because of abuse and/or neglect.

A child protection agency, often referred to as a children’s aid society (CAS), may:

  • remove a child from their family and take them to a place of safety, or
  • ask the court for an order to leave or place a child with a parent, family member or community member under the supervision of the CAS

Office of the Children’s Lawyer involvement

We will assign an OCL lawyer to represent a child when the court orders that the child be represented.

We may also appoint an OCL lawyer if CAS asks a family to participate in an alternative dispute resolution process (such as, mediation, family group conferencing or an Indigenous resolution process such as a talking circle) and the child is old enough to express views and preferences.

When the court makes an order for OCL involvement, the CAS completes the Office of the Children's Lawyer Child Protection Referral Form.

Child protection cases can be very complicated. If you are a parent or caregiver who has been served with a protection or status review application, you should consider speaking to a lawyer.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or needs protection, you have a duty to report your concerns to your local children’s aid society. Visit the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies for more information on the duty to report and a listing of children’s aid societies in Ontario.

Civil cases

Civil cases include:

  • personal injury
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • medical malpractice

In civil cases, children under the age of 18 cannot sue or be sued in their own name. The only exception is a child can sue in Small Claims Court for $500 or less. Otherwise, they need a litigation guardian, which is a person who makes decisions for a minor in a court proceeding.

A litigation guardian is authorized to take all steps that the child would take in the case if the child were an adult. The litigation guardian must be represented by a lawyer.

In civil cases, we:

  • act as litigation guardian if ordered by the court, where there is no adult willing or able to represent the child
  • recommend to the court whether a proposed settlement involving a child should be approved if requested by a judge
  • represent a child in court applications for appointment of a guardian of property to receive and manage the child’s money from a personal injury or other civil court case

If the child is entitled to money from the result of a civil case, the money may need to be managed by the Accountant of the Superior Court of Justice or a court appointed guardian of property. For more information about managing a child’s money and property.

Estates and trusts

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer may act on behalf of children under 18 in cases where a child may receive money or property.

The child might be entitled to money or property if they are:

  • named as a beneficiary in a will or trust
  • named as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy or a registered plan
  • a beneficiary of an estate under the law because the deceased died without a will
  • the registered owner of real property (usually land or a building) or a bank account

Learn more about our role in estates and trusts matters.

Managing a child’s money and property

If a child is entitled to receive money over $35,000, it will be paid into court and managed by the Accountant of the Superior Court of Justice except where:

  • a person is named as the trustee of the child’s money in a legal document such as a will or beneficiary designation
  • a person has been appointed guardian of the child’s property by a judge

The OCL represents a child’s interests in applications for guardianship over a child’s property.

Learn more about how to apply to be appointed guardian of a child’s property.

Minors’ Funds Program

If a child’s money has been paid into the court and the parent or caregiver needs money for the child’s direct benefit, the parent can request a payment out of the court through the Office of the Children Lawyer’s Minors’ Funds Program. Learn more about how to request your child’s money through the Minors’ Funds Program.

Empanelment opportunities

If you are a lawyer or clinician, learn how you can apply to provide services on behalf of children through 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

For information about how you serve documents on the Office of the Children's Lawyer.

For concerns or feedback about the services of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer or one of its panel members, contact OCL.Complaints@ontario.ca.

Updated: August 12, 2021
Published: May 21, 2021