Ontario Custody: Clinical Reports & Private Assessments

Court cases involving children are complicated for many reasons. If the court needs help figuring out the needs of the child or determining the validity of allegations parents make against one another, a clinician or assessor might have to weigh in.

Clinicians work on behalf of the Office of the Children's Lawyer, while assessors work independently. Both investigate a family's circumstances and prepare reports based on their findings. These reports typically include recommendations for decision-making responsibility and parenting time.

The report that the clinician or assessor writes becomes a factor in the judge's decision about your final parenting order.

Either parent can ask the judge to order a report or assessment, or the judge can order one without a parent's request.

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Clinical reports

The Office of the Children's Lawyer (OCL) is a government-funded office that represents children. In addition to in-house children's lawyers and clinicians, the OCL has children's lawyers and clinicians throughout Ontario.

The OCL cannot get involved in a parenting dispute without a judge's order. Even with a judge's order, the OCL doesn't accept a case if:

  • A Children's Aid Society is actively investigating.
  • Your child lives outside of Ontario.
  • Most of the issues in your case are monetary.

If the OCL accepts your case, you receive a letter stating whether they've assigned a children's lawyer, clinician or both professionals.

Children's lawyers focus on advocating for the child's views and preferences.

Clinicians are mental health professionals (usually social workers) who conduct investigations and prepare clinical reports for the court. If appointed alongside a lawyer, they don't file a report, but they could write an affidavit (i.e., comment) about their findings to serve as evidence. They do not conduct psychological or psychiatric assessments. (See private assessments to learn about professionals who do.)

Services provided through the OCL are free.

Clinicians can prepare the following reports.

Children's lawyer report

A children's lawyer report gives the court insight into the child's needs and each parent's ability to meet those needs. Despite the name, no children's lawyer is involved — just the Office of the Children's Lawyer.

There are two types of children's lawyer reports. Section 112 reports require a full investigation that looks at the case as a whole. Focused issue reports zero in on one issue the court instructs the clinician to investigate.

After the court orders the report, you must email the completed Intake Form to the OCL within 10 days.

To gather information for their report, the clinician:

  • Interviews parents about the issues in dispute and how the family is handling parenting time
  • Gets the child's thoughts on what's happening
  • Observes the child while they play or draw pictures if they're too young to answer questions
  • Talks to the child's extended family members, doctors, daycare providers, etc.
  • Reviews relevant documents and records

Interviews typically happen in the clinician's office but can occur via video conference. The child's interview might happen in your home or at the child's school to help them feel comfortable. The clinician does not make the child pick sides in any way.

Parents must sign a release form to allow the clinician to speak with certain sources like doctors. If they don't, the clinician might stop the investigation or ask the court to make an order allowing them to speak with the source and obtain records. The clinician always lets you know whom they will interview beforehand.

The clinician may pause their investigation to request a parent or the child undergo psychological or psychiatric testing. They resume their work once the results come back.

The clinician takes about 60 days to prepare a focused report and 90 to 120 days to prepare a full report.

After their report is finished, the clinician might hold a disclosure meeting with the parents to outline findings and encourage a settlement.

If you still don't agree with the other parent, the report is filed with the court. You receive a copy.

If you disagree with anything in the report, you have 30 days to file a dispute, which is a written statement detailing your disagreements. You could also question the clinician at trial.

Voice of the child report

A voice of the child (VOC) report summarizes a child's thoughts on specific issues. This is only for children who are at least 7 years old. The clinician has 30 days to complete the report.

The judge's order for a VOC report specifies what issues the judge wants the clinician to investigate. These could be things like where the child wants to go to school, how much time the child likes to spend with a parent and which parent the child wants to live with.

After the judge gives the order, you need to fill out a Voice of the Child Intake Form. Email it to the OCL within 10 days of the order. If your case is accepted, the clinician reaches out to you to:

  • Explain the process.
  • Get information about why your case was referred.
  • Make sure a Children's Aid Society isn't involved.
  • Get your permission to interview your child.
  • Set a time, date and location to interview your child.

The clinician interviews the child on two separate days. After the interview, they go over their notes with the child to ensure accuracy. This becomes the report that the clinician shares with you and the court.

Private assessments

Private assessments may come into play if there are accusations of parental alienation or serious psychological issues.

The mental health professional who performs the assessment is called the assessor. They could be a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Parents have to pay for the assessment, which can cost a few thousand dollars or more than $20,000.

Due to the high cost, a judge usually orders an assessment only if a parent asks for it. Whoever wants the assessment must show that it will help the court understand the needs of the child.

Choose an assessor who has experience dealing with the issues at hand. If parents can't agree on an assessor, the judge chooses.

The assessor:

  • Interviews parents, the child and others who are close to the family
  • Observes interactions between parents and their child
  • Conducts psychological or psychiatric testing and makes a diagnosis themselves or asks another professional to do so
  • Reviews school, medical and other records

The assessor needs your permission before they can access your records or speak to certain third parties.

You could question the assessor at trial if the judge allows it.

Tips for participating in reports and assessments

  • Be honest.
  • Ask any questions you have.
  • Do not coach your child.
  • Always show that your child is a top priority in your life.
  • Don't speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Make sure your home is clean if the professional visits.

What to prepare for a report or assessment interview

You should provide the professional studying your family with information that will help them understand the dynamics.

Start by showing them your current parenting time calendar. They may also want to see entries from a parenting journal or your child's current information.

The Custody X Change online app enables you to present all of this and more. You want to be prepared, and Custody X Change gets you there quickly.

Take advantage of Custody X Change so you can walk into your interview confident and ready.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and parenting time schedules.

Make My Ontario Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and parenting time schedules.

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