What is the Role of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) in Family Law?

January 15, 2024 Plat Simionati

What is the Role of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) in Family Law?

Disclaimer: This article aims to provide educational information surrounding the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. It is not intended to serve as legal advice. Consult with a lawyer and exercise your discretion before taking action based on the information provided in the blog. 

While your separation and/or divorce marks the end of your relationship with your partner, its impact is not limited to just them. If you have a child, the needs of the child are significantly impacted, and decisions about their care, parenting time, and decision-making responsibility must be made. Unfortunately, these decisions are not always straightforward. 

For example, consider a situation where parents are in the midst of a divorce, and there’s a significant disagreement regarding the child’s living arrangements and the allocation of decision-making responsibilities. Despite attempts at mediation, both parents remain entrenched in their positions. Serious allegations may even be made against one or both parents. 

What are your options? How can you do what’s best for your child? 

In this article, we will discuss Children’s lawyer reports in Ontario. We will talk about the involvement of the OCL in parenting time (access) and decision-making responsibility (custody) issues.  In a future article, we will discuss Voice of the Child Reports.

What is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL)? 

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer is an independent office within the Ministry of the Attorney General. It represents children under the age of 18 who are involved in various legal proceedings, such as litigation, estate, and family law matters, including cases involving parenting time and child protection issues. 

The Children’s Lawyer is appointed by the court to act on behalf of the child’s interests, ensuring their views, preferences, and well-being are considered during legal proceedings. The main objective of the Children’s Lawyer is to ensure that the child’s voice is heard and their rights are protected within the legal system.  

How do I request that the Office of the Children’s Lawyer become involved?

One of the parties or the court may request that the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) become involved under section 89 of the Courts of Justice Act.  Once you have received an order requesting that the OCL become involved, there is a 10- to 14-day window for parties to complete detailed intake forms for the OCL. These forms provide the OCL with crucial data about family dynamics, children’s welfare, and other pertinent issues.

However, that does not automatically mean that the OCL will get involved. The Children’s Lawyer may decline to do so for many reasons, including but not limited: 

  • mediation has been ordered, or there is a pending order to that effect; 
  • an assessment concerning parenting time and decision-making responsibility has been completed within the past year; 
  • When one or both parties allege abuse. In that case, the local Children’s Aid Society should investigate the allegations and the OCL investigation is delayed or placed on hold.

If the OCL becomes involved, section 112 of the Courts of Justice Act allows them to conduct an investigation and prepare a Children’s Lawyer report.

Who prepares a Children’s Lawyer report in Ontario?

A clinician typically prepares the report. The clinician, usually a social worker, is knowledgeable about child development and the impact of separation or divorce. Additionally, they understand the issues facing parents who cannot agree on parenting time, decision-making responsibility and contact. 

What is the process for preparing a Children’s Lawyer report?

The investigator will collect and analyze information to determine the best parenting arrangement for the child. The process would include interviews with each parent, family members, and friends with whom the child has a meaningful connection. They would speak to “collateral sources,” which would include teachers, daycare providers, and doctors, to obtain information about the health and well-being of the child. 

Finally, they would spend time with the child, observing their family and conducting interviews. Depending on their age, an interview may involve play-based activities or sharing their feelings through stories. The purpose is to discern the views and preferences of the child.  

What happens to the report once it has been completed?

The clinician will arrange a meeting with the parties to provide a summary of their findings, recommendations, and reasons. In some instances, this meeting helps the parents come to an agreement regarding their parenting time and decision-making responsibility. It allows them to finalize their parenting plan. 

In any event, the investigator will write a report and file it with the court. It will also be provided to the parties or their lawyers. It will become part of the evidence that a judge will consider in the event that your matter goes to a hearing or a trial. 

The investigator does not have the authority to make decisions about parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact arrangements. It offers insight into your children’s best interests and recommendations on parenting arrangements.  

If you disagree or dispute anything in the report, you have 30 days to file a dispute under the Family Law Rules.

Support for the entire family with Plat Simionati LLP 

At Plat Simionati LLP, we are here to support you in doing what is best for your children. From facilitating discussions regarding OCL involvement to ensuring your understanding of the legal implications, we’re committed to empowering you throughout the process. 

We also provide mediation and collaborative law services to help you settle outstanding issues without going to court. You can learn more about mediation and collaborative law in our previous articles.  

To learn more, contact our team today. Trust Plat Simionati LLP to navigate the legal landscape. We offer comprehensive support and legal counsel as you help move your family into its next chapter.