Family Law and Child Protection

Getting the Office of the Children's Lawyer Involved

Questions about the court process

Section 112 Investigation and Report


  1. What does the Office of the Children's Lawyer do?

    The Office of the Children's Lawyer (OCL) helps children involved in certain types of legal cases.

    If a child's parents or family members are involved in a court case and cannot agree on custody and access arrangements for a child, the OCL may provide:

    • a lawyer to represent the child
    • a clinician to meet with the family and write a report for the court
    • both a lawyer and clinician.

    If a children's aid society (CAS) has apprehended a child or brought an application asking for a court order regarding a child, the OCL will provide a lawyer to represent the child, if the court orders it.

    The OCL sometimes provides lawyers to help children in cases involving property. If you have a question about a child's interests in a civil court case, estate or trust case, click here.

    Services are provided in English and French.

  2. Does the Office of the Children's Lawyer get involved in cases before they go to court?

    No. However the OCL may assign a lawyer to represent a child if a children's aid society (CAS) asks a family to participate in an alternative dispute resolution process such as mediation, family group conferencing, a talking circle, etc. The children's aid society will notify the OCL if the child is going to participate in the process and the OCL will decide whether or not to assign a lawyer for the child.

  3. Does the Office of the Children's Lawyer represent youth who are charged with a criminal offence?

    No, the OCL does not represent youth in criminal or youth court. If you, or a youth you know, has been charged, or needs help with a matter involving the police, you should contact Legal Aid Ontario toll free at 1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446 in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). To learn more about Legal Aid Ontario, visit the website at www.legalaid.on.ca.

    If you are a youth who lives in or near Toronto, you can contact Justice for Children and Youth, a legal aid clinic for young people under 18, at toll free at 1-866-999-JFCY (5329) or 416-920-1633 in the GTA, or by email at info@jfcy.org.

    More information about Justice for Children and Youth is available on its website at www.jfcy.org.

  4. Where can a child or youth get help if he or she is a victim of crime?

    Ontario Victim Services has information about programs and supports that may be available for children and youth. For more information, visit the webpage.

Getting the Office of the Children's Lawyer Involved

  1. How can I get the Office of the Children's Lawyer to represent my child in my custody/access case?

    If your case is before the court, the judge can make an order asking the Office of the Children's Lawyer to become involved.

    You can ask the judge at your next court appearance or bring a motion. If you have a lawyer, speak to him or her about bringing a motion.

    If you want to know how to bring a motion, see rule 14 of the Family Law Rules and the guide to bringing a motion.

    If you don't have a lawyer and would like to hire one, you can contact the Law Society Referral Service. The referral service will provide a name of a lawyer in your area who practices family law, and who will provide a half-hour free consultation. The telephone number for the service is 1-855-947-5255 or at 416-947-5255 in the GTA.

    If you don't want to hire a lawyer, you may wish to visit a Family Law Information Centre. Family Law Information Centres have been established in all court districts to meet the needs of people who are involved in the court process, particularly those who are not represented by a lawyer.

    Family Law Information Centres provide free information about the family court process. Court staff are available to provide you with court forms and general information about court procedures.

    A lawyer from Legal Aid Ontario is available at the centres at certain times. The advice lawyer can give general legal information on family law matters free of charge. If you meet the eligibility requirements established by Legal Aid Ontario, the lawyer may be able to give you legal advice specific to your case. For a listing of the Family Law Information Centre locations in Ontario, please visit: www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/infoctr_locations.php.

  2. The court has made an order asking the Office of the Children's Lawyer to get involved in my custody/access case. What happens now?

    The court clerk or your lawyer may have given you an OCL “intake form” to complete. If you do not have a copy of the OCL intake form, click here.

    You have 14 days from the day the order was made to complete this intake form and either mail or fax it to the Office of the Children's Lawyer.

    Please keep a copy of your intake form for your records. If you fax the intake form, you should keep a copy of the fax confirmation form.

    You can mail the form to:
    The Office of the Children's Lawyer
    c/o MGS Mail Delivery Services
    2B – 88 Macdonald Block
    77 Wellesley Street West
    Toronto, ON M7A 1N3

    Or, you can fax the form to 416-314-8050.

  3. Do I need a lawyer to help me fill out my intake form?

    No, you can fill out the intake form on your own.

  4. Does the Office of the Children's Lawyer have to help my child when the court makes an order in a custody/access case?

    In custody and access cases, the OCL does not have to accept a case. A court order in a custody and access case is a request only, which means that the OCL can decide not to accept a case.

    When deciding whether to accept a case, the OCL reviews all the information provided by the court and parents or parties to help ensure services are provided to children who need help the most. For example, special consideration is given to cases where children are experiencing significant difficulties as a result of conflict within their family.

    The Office of the Children's Lawyer can also decide whether to assign a lawyer, clinician (usually a social worker) or both. Generally, clinicians are assigned for children under the age of ten and lawyers for older children and youth.

  5. How long will it take for the Office of the Children's Lawyer to let me know if they will accept my case?

    The OCL receives thousands of requests for service each year. It usually takes several weeks to make a decision about which custody/access files it can accept.

    The OCL processes files in the order in which it receives them and processes them as quickly as possible. The time it takes to review the intake forms and decide if or how the OCL will provide service depends on the number of requests sent in at any given time.

  6. How will I know if the Office of the Children's Lawyer has accepted my case?

    As soon as the OCL makes a decision, the OCL will send a letter to your lawyer (or to you, if you do not have a lawyer). The letter will tell you whether or not the OCL is accepting your case.

    If the OCL accepts your case, the letter will also indicate if the OCL will assign a lawyer, clinician or both.

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  7. Does the ce of the Children's Lawyer have to help my child when the court makes an order in a child protection case?p>

    Yes. In child protection cases, the OCL will assign a lawyer if the court makes an order appointing a lawyer for a child.

  8. Can I do anything to speed up the decision process?

    Yes you can. Here are some tips to help the OCL review your case and make a decision faster:

    • Make sure you answer all the questions on the intake form.
    • If a question does not apply to your case, write “n/a” (“not applicable”).
    • If you are completing the form by hand, use a black or blue pen and print or write clearly.
    • Keep your answers short. Try to use only the space provided in the form. If the OCL agrees to take your case, you will be able to provide more details to the lawyer or clinician directly.
    • Sign all of the consent forms included in the intake form to allow the OCL to get police and children's aid society records.
    • Send in the form as soon as possible.
    • Make sure you include an address and phone number(s) where you can be reached. The OCL will contact you if it needs more information.
    • Please don't call the OCL to find out when a decision will be made. The OCL will get back to you as soon as possible.
  9. What sort of things does the Office of the Children's Lawyer look for when deciding to accept a case?

    The OCL receives thousands of referrals each year and, unfortunately, can't accept every case. The OCL looks at each case individually and considers the information provided by the parents or parties and the court. The OCL accepts referrals in cases where it believes that its services could be the most help to the children. For example, priority is given to cases where the children are experiencing significant difficulties as a result of conflict within their family.

  10. I have already submitted my intake form, but I have new information that I think the Office of the Children's Lawyer should have. What should I do?

    Please send any new information in writing. You can mail or fax the information. Please make sure you provide the names of the parties in your case.

    You can mail the information to:
    The Office of the Children's Lawyer
    c/o MGS Mail Delivery Services
    2B – 88 Macdonald Block
    77 Wellesley Street West
    Toronto, ON M7A 1N3

    Or, you can fax the information to 416-314-8050.

  11. If the Office of the Children's Lawyer does not accept my case, can I appeal?

    There is no formal appeal process, but you can ask the OCL to reconsider its decision by writing a letter saying why you think the OCL should become involved in your case.

    If you have any new information, or if circumstances have changed since you completed the intake form, you should include this information in your letter.

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

    When the OCL receives your letter, it will review your file and consider the new information.

    The OCL will let you or your lawyer know our decision as quickly as possible.

  12. I have received a letter saying that the Office of the Children's Lawyer will accept my case. What happens next?

    Once your case has been accepted, the OCL assigns a lawyer, clinician or both in your area. As soon as a lawyer and/or clinician is assigned to your case, the OCL will notify your lawyer (or you, if you do not have a lawyer) by letter.

  13. What if we settle the case before we hear back from the Office of the Children's Lawyer?

    If your case settles at any time, please notify the OCL in writing as soon as possible.

  14. What is the role of a child's lawyer in a family law case?

    When the Office of the Children's Lawyer represents a child in a custody and access or child protection case, the role of child's counsel is to independently represent the interests of the child who is the subject of the proceeding.

    Counsel for the child:

    • meets with the child's parents or anyone asking for custody or access
    • meets with the child as many times as he or she believes is necessary
    • determines the child's wishes, where possible
    • contacts relevant sources of information (such as teachers, doctors, day care providers, therapists etc.)
    • meets with the parents or other parties to provide feedback and, where appropriate, suggests ways to resolve the issues between the parties
    • takes a position that includes the child's wishes and other important information regarding the family
    • tells the court what position he or she is taking on behalf of the child.

    Counsel for the child does not file a report with the court.

  15. What is the role of a clinician who is assigned to prepare a report in a custody/access case?

    In a custody/access case the clinician:

    • meets with the parents and any other parties in the case
    • meets with the child as many times as he or she believes is necessary
    • may observe the child with the parents or parties
    • contacts relevant sources of information (such as teachers, doctors, day care providers, therapists etc.)
    • meets with the parents/parties to provide feedback and, where appropriate, suggests ways to resolve the issues;
    • writes a report with details of the investigation and giving recommendations about the issues in the case
    • shares the report with the parents/parties
    • files the report with the court.

    Please note that if a clinician is assigned to help a lawyer in a case, he or she will not prepare a report.

  16. If both a lawyer and clinician are appointed in my case, what are their roles?

    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 they think it is necessary, with other people who might have information affecting the case.

    In cases where there is both a lawyer and clinician assigned, the clinician will not file a report. In some cases, the lawyer will help the clinician prepare a legal document called an affidavit which may be used as evidence in a case.

    An affidavit is a statement in writing that is sworn or affirmed by a person and is evidence in a court proceeding.

  17. Does the Office of the Children's Lawyer appoint clinicians in child protection cases?

    The OCL does not appoint clinicians in child protection cases. Generally, the OCL does not appoint clinicians to assist lawyers in child protection cases either, although it might in an exceptional case.

  18. Does the Office of the Children's Lawyer decide what is in a child's best interests?

    No. The children's lawyer and/or clinician 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 OCL will tell the court what position it is taking on behalf of the child and the court will decide what is in the child's best interests.

    When deciding what is in a child's best interests, the court will consider:

    • any evidence that is presented in the hearing
    • the position of the parents and parties
    • the position taken on behalf of a child by OCL counsel or any recommendations made by the OCL in a clinician's report.
  19. What if I disagree with a report prepared by a clinician?

    Once the Office of the Children's Lawyer 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).

    You or your lawyer may also cross-examine the clinician at the trial or before trial in a special examiner's office. If you have a lawyer, you should discuss your options with him or her.

    If you do not have a lawyer and want more information about finding a lawyer, click here.

  20. What is a special examiner's office?

    Special examiner's offices are private offices used mainly by lawyers if they want to question a witness outside of the court room. A party or witness is asked questions under oath and a reporter records the questions and answers. The parties are then able to obtain a transcript of the proceeding.

    There are fees for attending at a special examiner's office and for the transcript. The parties are responsible for paying these fees. You should discuss this option with your lawyer.

    If you do not have a lawyer and would like more information about a special examiner's office, you can search for a special examiner in your local telephone book or online.

Questions about the court process

  1. Does the court always follow the child's wishes?

    The child's wishes are one factor, among many, that the court considers when determining what is in his or her best interests. The weight the court gives to the child's wishes depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.

  2. Is it true that when children turn 12 they can decide where they want to live?

    No. If the parents can't agree on where a child will live, the court will make the decision. The court will consider the child's wishes, but these are only one factor the court has to consider when making a decision in a child's best interests.

  3. What factors does the court consider when making a decision about a child's best interests in a custody/access case?

    Section 24 of the Children's Law Reform Act directs the court to consider all of the child's needs and circumstances, including:

    • the love, affection and emotional ties between the child and
      • each person entitled to or claiming custody of or access to the child
      • other members of the child's family who reside with the child, and
      • persons involved in the child's care and upbringing;
    • the child's views and preferences, if they can be reasonably ascertained
    • the length of time the child has lived in a stable home environment
    • the ability and willingness of each person applying for custody of the child to provide the child with guidance and 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 family unit with which it is proposed that the child will live
    • the ability of each person applying for custody of or access to the child to act as a parent, or
    • the relationship by blood or through an adoption order between the child and each person who is a party to the application.
  4. Will the court consider a person's past conduct in making a decision about custody and access?

    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 he or she has at any time committed violence or abuse against:

    • his or her spouse
    • a parent of the child to whom the application relates
    • a member of the person's household
    • any child

    An exception to this is if the violent action was an act of self-defence or for the purpose of protecting another person.

  5. Is the best interests test the same in a child protection case as it is in a custody/access case?

    No. The tests are different. The best interests test and the things the court will consider in a child protection case, including a parent's past behaviour as a parent or caregiver, are set out in the Child and Family Services Act.

    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.

    Please note that a child's lawyer can't provide a parent or caregiver with legal advice.

    If you do not have a lawyer and would like information about how to find one, click here.

  6. How can I find a lawyer to represent me?

    If you want to hire a lawyer, you can contact the Law Society Referral Service. This service will provide a name of a lawyer in your area who practices family law. If you are involved in a child protection case, you should ask for a lawyer who has experience with child protection cases. The lawyer will provide a half-hour free consultation. For more information you can call toll free at 1-855-947-5255 or 416-947-5255 in the Greater Toronto Area.

    If you can't afford to hire a lawyer, you can contact Legal Aid Ontario to find out if you're eligible for financial assistance to pay for a lawyer. For more information you can call LAO toll free at 1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446 in the GTA. You can also visit the website at www.legalaid.on.ca.

  7. What if I don't agree with a decision the court has made?

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

  8. Where can I find out more information about the family court process?

    Legal Aid Ontario, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Attorney General, has developed a free online Family Law Information Program. This interactive program provides information to persons who are considering using the family court to resolve their disputes. It provides legal and practical information about:

    • child custody
    • support payments
    • property settlements
    • shared parenting
    • alternatives to court, such as mediation and arbitration.

    Visit the Legal Aid Ontario website at www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/flip.asp.

    The Ministry of the Attorney General has also prepared the booklet "What You Should Know About Family Law in Ontario", which you may find helpful in answering some of your questions. The booklet contains information about the laws that may affect you if you separate or divorce, and it includes options for resolving disputes. The booklet is available in nine languages on the ministry website at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/famlawbro.php.

  9. What are the Family Law Rules?

    The Family Law Rules set out the procedures that must be followed in a family law case. Even if you do not have a lawyer, you are expected to follow the rules of the court. The Family Law Rules and forms may be accessed through the Ministry of the Attorney General website at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca. Choose your preferred language and click on "Family Justice".

  10. What if I know or suspect that a child is being abused or is in need of protection?

    If you suspect that a child is being abused or is in need of protection, you have a duty to report your concerns to your local children's aid society. For more information on the duty to report, and for a listing of children's aid societies in Ontario, visit the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies website www.oacas.org/childwelfare/duty.htm.

  11. What if I have to go to court and have accessibility issues?

    If you need accessible services or accommodation related to court services, please contact the accessibility coordinator in the courthouse that you are attending, as soon as possible to make arrangements. Contact information can be found on the ministry's website at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/Court_Addresses/ or by calling 416–326–2220 or 1–800–518–7901. TTY users may call 416-326-4012 or 1-877-425-0575.

    Accessibility Coordinators are available in courthouses across the province to provide information about accessibility services available as well as respond to the needs of court users with disabilities. The types of accommodation that can be provided will depend on the disability, the purpose of the visit to the courthouse, and the availability of different types of equipment and services. If you require accommodation for a court proceeding, the judge will usually be informed about your request for accommodation. In some cases, especially if the accommodation request might have an impact on the other party, a judge may need to make a decision about if or how your request for accommodation will be granted.