Office of the Children’s Lawyer
The is a department within the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The Ministry of the Attorney General is responsible for organizing legal services for every ministry within the provincial government. Specifically, the OCL was formed to protect the rights of minors, unborn to eighteen (18) years of age, during the process of administering justice in legal (Attorney General of Ontario, n.d.).
The OCL is predominantly involved in matters related to family and estate law. Family law involves all legal issues that can be dealt with in family court, these include divorce, separation, child custody or access (Ministry of the Attorney General – Family Law, n.d.). Estate law typically covers transfer of assets (Ministry of the Attorney General – Estate Law, n.d.).
The OCL offers services, such as, representing a minor in legal or writing reports to assist with court . The OCL employs both lawyers and social workers to collectively assist individuals with legal matters. While lawyers assist with the advocacy process, social workers support the lawyers by compiling files and documentation. However, since the is operated under the by-laws set forth by the Provincial Government, they have the authority to accept or reject cases. These cases may be rejected if the child does not reside within the province of Ontario, or an investigation is being conducted by the . A full list of reasons that cases may be rejected upon can be found at Steps of Justice – Office of the Children’s Lawyer.
Matters for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer
The OCL is not involved in cases unless a motion is made to the judge presiding over a family or estate matter. The responsibilities of the OCL starts and ends with specific particular court . It must be noted that the OCL does not represent minors in criminal or quasi-criminal matters. Additionally, in civil cases a minor is not able to start a without the support of a litigation guardian. Therefore, a member of the OCL can stand in as a litigation guardian for a minor if no other adult is able to do so. A litigation guardian is defined as, “A guardian appointed to assist an infant or other mentally incapable defendant or plaintiff, or any such incapacitated person, that may be a party in a legal action, and to direct that litigation in the best interests of the incapable person” (Duhaime Law Dictionary, n.d.). While both the CAS and the OCL look after the interest of minors, each has its own specific tasks and work independently of each other.
Domestic Violence Matters
When considering domestic violence or abuse, the OCL “…must consider whether the custody and access arrangements might create or increase risk of harm to the children” (OWJN, 2015). It is the responsibility of the OCL to gather relevant information and opinions about the matter; and thereafter, evaluate the best solution for each party involved.
For all other information on OCL visit the website for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General at Ministry of the Attorney General – Office of the Children’s Lawyer .
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer is an independent, government funded, law office operating within the Family Justice Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General. The purpose of the OCL is to provide legal services to children under the age of 18 in the selected civil law matters. Their primary function is to represent the interest of the children in courts such as custody, child protection, civil, estates/trusts, and personal hearings. Because the OCL is government funded, parents are not required to pay for these services. The OCL have Children’s Lawyers and also has clinical investigators on staff who may be assigned to assist lawyers who represent children in particularly difficult custody and access cases, or to provide a report to the Court according to section 112 of the Courts of Justice Act.
Only a judge can make an court order requesting the involvement of the OCL (at the request of one or both parents or by motion). They will do so in cases where the parents/legal guardians of the child are unable to negotiate an appropriate custody arrangement, or if the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) requires their services to assist the family in navigating alternative resolution processes (i.e. mediation). It is entirely at the discretion of the OCL to determine whether or not they will accept the case: it is not mandatory for them to do so despite the court order. In the event that the OCL accepts the case (they receive thousands of requests each year), they will first determine if the child requires a lawyer or a clinician (typically a Social Worker). Both parties serve different purposes when working with the child. The decision as to which is required is typically based on age.
Lawyer - Their role is to converse with the parents or whomever is requesting custody (for example grandparents) to understand the nature of the dispute. They will also speak directly with the child as it is important for the lawyer to understand their wishes before proceeding. Additionally, it is the lawyers’ responsibility to reach out to any other sources, such as teachers or doctors, to understand their perspective and gather any additional information necessary. Based on their findings, they will take a position on behalf of their child client and represent them at the court by providing their feedback as to how to move forward.
Clinical Investigator - Their role is like that of a lawyer as they will communicate with the child, their respective guardians, and any additional parties they feel appropriate. Where the clinician differs is in terms of additional functionalities such as observing the families, making recommendations for resolution, and creating a report for the court which outlines the details of the case and their recommendations. Once the report is complete, the clinician will then share the information with the family and will formally file it with the court.
Both Lawyer and Clinician - If both a lawyer and clinician are assigned to a case, the clinician does not file any sort of report, instead, they assist the lawyer in the creation of an affidavit. (Ministry of the Attorney General, 2005-2006)
These are the actions and activities which take place during a legal dispute. It is a blanket term that defines the entire legal process from beginning to end. This could also refer to a specific type of hearing or trial (Justice Education Society, 2019).
For over 100 years, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) has been serving and promoting the welfare and well-being of children, youth and families in Ontario. Their vision is to re-imagine child welfare: to create an effective children’s services system that supports ALL children, youth, families, and communities to thrive. There are 50 Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) and Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies in Ontario. OACAS is an association representing 49 member organizations. Of these, 47 of 49 are mandated CASs and Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies; two are pre-mandated Indigenous agencies. More information about the services provided by the OACAS can be found at http://www.oacas.org/