Overview

In a family law matter, the court may ask the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) to help when parties can’t agree on:

  • how much time children will spend with each of them (this is called parenting time)
  • the contact the children will have with a specific person, like a grandparent
  • who has the authority to make decisions for a child (this is called, decision-making responsibility)

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer may provide:

  • a lawyer to represent the child (generally for older children and youth)
  • a clinician (usually a social worker) to meet with the family and write a report for the court (generally for children under ten)
  • both a lawyer and clinician

Request the Office of the Children’s Lawyer

If your parenting time, decision-making responsibility and/or contact case is before the court, you can ask the judge to make an order to request the involvement of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

Step one: get an order from the court

You can make a request for the OCL to get involved in your case by either:

  • asking the judge to make an order at your next court appearance
  • before your next appearance, bringing a motion (see rule 14 of the Family Law Rules and the guide to bringing a motion)

A judge may also decide on their own to ask the OCL to get involved.

If you don’t have a lawyer and would like to hire one, you can contact the Law Society Referral Service. If you don’t want to hire a lawyer, you can visit a Family Law Information Centre.

Step two: forward the order to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer

If the judge agrees, they will make an order seeking the involvement of the OCL on a court order form. When the order is signed it must be sent to the OCL by either:

  • the party assigned in the order
  • the court

Send the order to the OCL by either:

  • mail to
    Office of the Children’s Lawyer
    393 University Avenue, 14th Floor
    Toronto, Ontario
    M5G 1E6
  • email at OCL.Legaldocuments@ontario.ca
  • fax to 416-314-8050

Step three: complete the intake form

Within 14 days of the court making the order, the parties must each complete separate Parenting and Contact Orders OCL Intake Forms (also available from the court clerk or your lawyer) and send it by either:

The intake form does not need to be completed by a lawyer. Here are some tips for completing the form:

  • answer all the questions on the intake form
  • if a question does not apply to your case, write “n/a” or “not applicable”
  • if you are completing the form by hand, use a black or blue pen and print clearly
  • keep your answers short and try to use only the space provided (if your case is accepted, you will be able to provide more information to the lawyer or clinician)
  • sign all the included consent forms, so we can get police and children’s aid society records
  • make sure you include contact information, including your mailing address, email address and phone number(s) where you can be reached if there are questions
  • send in the form as soon as possible

Keep a copy of your intake form and the fax confirmation (if faxed) for your records.

Please don’t call the OCL to find out when a decision will be made, we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Step four: Office of the Children’s Lawyer review

The OCL processes files as quickly as possible, in the order that we receive them. Depending on how many requests we receive, it usually takes several weeks to decide which files to accept.

When deciding whether to accept a case, we review the information provided by the court and parents or parties to help ensure services are provided to children who need help the most.

We may not provide services in the following circumstances:

  • the child lives outside Ontario
  • the child or either parent/party does not live where the case is being conducted
  • there is an outstanding or anticipated order for assessment by another assessor or mediation
  • an assessment or mediation is pending
  • an assessment has been completed about parenting time and decision-making responsibility in the year preceding the request
  • the case history indicates that there have been multiple assessments or prolonged litigation with little possibility of resolution
  • there are serious mental health concerns with respect to either parent or child, and a mental health assessment has not been undertaken or completed
  • support or property issues are the focus and the parenting time and decision-making responsibility arrangements have been relatively stable
  • the primary purpose is to obtain evidence to further the litigation
  • other resolution efforts could have happened, but have not been attempted
  • the child's situation would not be improved, for example:
  • one or both parties allege abuse or neglect and the children’s aid society is investigating or should be asked to investigate
  • the children’s aid society is or has been involved and has taken a position about the parenting time or decision-making responsibility arrangements

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

As soon as we make a decision, we will send a letter to the parties and the court, by fax or mail, outlining if the case was accepted and the type of service being offered.

If your case settles before then, please notify us in writing (by email, fax or regular mail) as soon as possible.

If your case is accepted

If we accept your case, we will assign a lawyer, clinician or both.

The counsel representing the child will not file a report with the court. They will:

  • meet with the child’s parents or anyone asking for parenting time or decision-making responsibility in respect of the child
  • meet with the child as many times as he or she believes is necessary
  • determine the child’s wishes, where possible
  • contact relevant sources of information, like teachers, doctors, day care providers, therapists, etc.
  • meet with the parents or other parties to provide feedback and, where appropriate, suggests ways to resolve the issues between the parties
  • take a position that includes the child’s wishes and other important information regarding the family
  • tell the court what position they are taking on behalf of the child

Learn more about the role of the clinician and the clinician’s report.

If your case is declined

If your case is declined, that will end the Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s involvement in your case and you will return to court at your next court appearance. If you do not agree with the decision, you may request a review.

Requesting a review of the decision

If we have declined to provide service, you may send us a letter asking us to reconsider. The letter should state:

  • why you think we should be involved in your case
  • if you have any new information
  • if circumstances have changed since you completed the intake form

Also send a copy of this letter to any other lawyers in the case or directly to the other parent or party, if he or she does not have a lawyer.

When we receive your letter, we will review your file and consider the new information. We will let you or your lawyer know the decision as quickly as possible.

Family law court process

The child’s best interests

The OCL does not decide what is in the child’s best interests. When making that decision, the court will consider:

  • any evidence that is presented in the hearing
  • the position of the parents and any other parties
  • the position taken by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer counsel on behalf of a child or any recommendations made in a clinician’s report

The child’s wishes

The child’s wishes are one factor that the court considers when determining what is in the child’s best interests. The weight the court gives to the child’s wishes depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

The court must consider all the child’s needs and circumstances, including:

  • love, affection and emotional ties between the child and
  • the child’s views and preferences
  • the length of time the child has lived in a stable home environment
  • the ability and willingness of each person applying for decision-making responsibility to provide guidance, education, the necessaries of life and any special needs of the child
  • any plans proposed for the child’s care and upbringing
  • the permanence and stability of the proposed family unit that the child will live with
  • the ability of each person applying for parenting time or decision-making responsibility to act as a parent
  • the relationship by blood or through an adoption order between the child and each person who is a party to the application

Past conduct of a party

The court may only consider a person’s past conduct if it is relevant to the person’s ability to act as a parent or if they have, at any time, committed violence or abuse against:

  • their spouse
  • a parent of the child related to the case
  • a member of the person’s household
  • any child

An exception is if it was an act of self-defence or for the purpose of protecting another person.

Learn more about violence in the family.

Appealing a court decision

Judges are accountable for their decisions through the appeal process and through judicial complaint procedures. If you want to appeal any orders made by a judge, there are timelines involved. You can speak to a lawyer about your options for appealing.

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