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Ontario|Children and the Law
976 What is the Custody / Access Report Process?
- Office of the Children's LawyerSocial workers in the Office of the Children's Lawyer are authorized by law to conduct investigations and prepare reports, called Custody/Access reports, under of the Courts of Justice Act. The Act states: "In a proceeding under the Divorce Act (Canada) or the Children's Law Reform Act in which a question concerning custody or access to a child is before the court, the Children's Lawyer may cause an investigation to be made and may report and make recommendations to the court on all matters concerning custody of or access to the child and the child's support and education".
- What is a Custody/Access Report?A custody/access report focuses on the interests of the children based on their needs and wishes and the family's ability to meet those needs. It provides a picture of the family history, current situation and parenting plans for the future. It may also provide recommendations to help the family make decisions about ongoing parenting plans.
The Office of the Children's Lawyer will review each court ordered request for appointment of the Children's Lawyer in custody/access cases and make a decision as to whether to provide social services.
If a decision is made to provide services, the social workers collect and evaluate information from family members and others who have been involved with the family to help understand what parenting arrangement would be best for the children. They assist families to look at various options that will meet the needs of the children and the family. They may prepare reports for the court with recommendations that consider the interests and wishes of the children.
- Criteria for Custody/Access Professional ServicesIn certain circumstances, the Office may decide not to provide services. These include the following 8 situations:
1. The child resides outside of Ontario;
2. The child and/or either parent or party does not reside where the action is being conducted;
3. There is an outstanding or anticipated order for assessment or mediation, or an assessment or mediation is pending;
4. An assessment has been completed about custody and access in the year proceeding the request;
5. A review of the case history indicates that there have been multiple assessments or protracted litigation with little possibility of resolution;
6. There are serious mental health concerns with respect to either parent and/or child, and a mental health assessment has not been undertaken or completed;
7. Support and/or property issues are the primary concerns and the custody and access arrangements have been relatively stable for an appreciable period of time; or
8. Where one or both parties allege abuse and/or neglect and the local Children's Aid Society is investigating or should be asked under the Child and Family Services Act to investigate such allegations.
- The Custody/Access Report ProcessOnce the Office of the Children's Lawyer has agreed to carry out a social work report, the family and their lawyer will receive a letter with the name of the social worker who will contact them.
The social worker will arrange to meet the family. Some interviews may be at the social worker's office and some may be at the family's home. The children will be observed with family members and may be interviewed privately, if appropriate. The number and location of interviews will be determined by the social worker.
The social worker will ask the family to sign release forms that will be sent to "collateral sources". These may include the children's school, daycare provider, doctor, community agencies, police and counsellors. The forms will allow such sources to share information with the social worker that will assist with the evaluation.
During the process, the parties involved in the custody/access case may decide to come to an arrangement concerning the children. The social worker may help arrange a settlement or disclosure meeting that may include the parties involved and their lawyers.
If a report if completed, it is filed with the court and copies are sent to the lawyers. The report becomes part of the court record. Each party has the right to send a formal dispute of the report to the court and the Office of the Children's Lawyer.
- The Children's InterviewsSocial workers who prepare social work reports regularly interview and observe children. It is best if this is done in a comfortable and familiar environment. The social worker understands that the children may be experiencing many different feelings about the separation and family situation. Depending upon the ages of the children, the social worker may have the children participate in structured play, draw pictures, or tell stories in order to talk about their feelings.
Parents often want to know, "Will the social worker ask my children where they want to live?" Children's thoughts, feelings and experiences are important and will be discussed. However, the social worker will not ask the children to choose between parents.
- Helpful HintsThere are some things that parents can do that may help make the custody/access report process less stressful for both themselves and the children. These include:
- Asking the social worker questions about the process, and writing the questions down;
- Preparing school, health and other information that might be helpful, such as names and telephone numbers;
- Asking for information about reading material, separation and divorce workshops, counselling, and other resources; and
- Telling the children about the process. Social workers can suggest approaches for different age levels.
For more information about the custody/access report process, contact the Office of the Children's Lawyer at (416) 314-8000, or visit the Ministry of the Attorney General website, at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca.