How to Deal with Spousal Support & Tax Consequences in Ontario

How to Get Your Child's Wishes Heard in Ontario Family Custody Disputes

Child custody battles can be painful and overwhelming both to the children and their parents. As a parent, you may want to have your child’s wishes heard by the judge in order to ensure the right decision is made. Since parents are often unable to come to an appropriate parenting arrangement, a judge or arbitrator must order one. The judge or arbitrator then decides what’s in the best interest of the child based on the information provided.

Even though a better approach would be for parents to amicably control their parenting arrangements instead of leaving it to a stranger, In many cases litigation is the only way to go. We always encourage our clients to exhaust other opportunities before they consider litigation. Putting your child in front of the judge may cause some emotional trauma.

However, if litigation is the only option, you must prepare yourself to present all the information needed to help the judge make the best decision on your case. Sometimes you just need to ensure your child’s wishes or views are heard by the judge.

When is the best time to have your child’s wishes heard?

When your child is old enough, which will depend on his/her level of maturity, it may be appropriate to have his or her views heard by the judge. In most cases, children between 2 to 6 years are considered too young for their views to be given any weight. Children between 7 and 11 years old are considered somewhat mature, and their views may be given some consideration. Even though they will be heard, their views will not determine the overall decision but may play a part. If your child is between 12 and 18 years old, the judge is likely to place heavy emphasis on their wishes. This is because kids that age are considered old enough for their opinion to help in decision making.

How to have the child’s views heard

There are different ways that a child’s views and wishes can reach the court.

  1. Views of the child reports

    The child will meet a professional such as a psychologist or counsellor who will interview him or her and ask several questions regarding parenting time and arrangement. The professional will take notes and relay the wishes of the child to the court. These professionals usually file the report and provide copies to the parents. Sometimes the professional may feel like the child has been trained to say what they said. If this is the case, the professional will indicate it in the report. You are likely to pay $1000 to $3000 for a 2-7 pages long report. There is a predetermined list of professionals who can do these reports.

  2. Hear the child reports

    These reports are prepared by certified professionals such as senior family lawyers, psychologists, and counsellors. The reports are considered superficial because they only relay what the child says to the judge. It’s more like a transcript of the child talking to the judge. The professionals are not required to give their opinions on whether the child has been trained to say what they said. Expect to spend $500 to $1500 for a 2-4 pages report.

  3. Complete s.211 reports

    Your child may also meet with a registered psychologist or counsellor who will prepare a more comprehensive report. These professionals also meet other parties such as the parents, references, and other family members or friends who are close to the children. The goal is to come up with an in-depth report of the child, which can be used to develop the best parenting arrangement. The report can cost $10,000 to $20,000 if done privately. There is an option to do them through the government for free, even though they may not be as complete and in-depth as the private one. A complete report is 20 to 100 pages long.

  4. Judge’s interview with the child

    In many cases, judges are reluctant to interview children. However, if they see the need to obtain the wishes of views of the child directly, they have the power and permission to do so. This personal interaction with the child helps the judge to better understand the family dynamics. Some parents may ask a judge to interview their child, but it is often not recommended.

  5. Child writing an affidavit

    For children between 13 to 17 years, the court may allow them to write an affidavit expressing their wishes. However, this is not a route that many judges like to see. It may relay a signal that the other parent has encouraged the child to take sides. This is usually means that the child has been alienated from one parent. In fact, many judges will choose not to read the affidavit or place very little weight on it. This is done to discourage parents from using this document to get their way in child custody battles.

  6. Getting a lawyer to represent the child

    In rare cases, the child may get a lawyer to represent him/her in the child custody battle. This makes things a lot more complicated. It also exposes the child to a bitter custody battle, which can cause permanent emotional trauma. The courts are usually very hesitant to allow the child to have a lawyer.