The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) is an independent office that operates in the Department of Justice and Public Safety.
A Children’s Lawyer may decide to act as a legal representative or litigation guardian for individual Island children in parenting time and decision-making responsibility cases.
The goal of the OCL is to protect and advocate for the best interests of children whose parents have separated or divorced and are engaged in high-conflict and complex disputes regarding parenting arrangements.
When the Children’s Lawyer represents a child, the Children’s Lawyer independently represents the needs and interests of the child. The Children’s Lawyer acts as the lawyer for the child and does not represent either parent.
What issues can the Office of the Children’s Lawyer assist with?
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer only assists with the following family law issues:
- Parenting time
- Decision-making responsibility regarding a child
How does the Office of the Children's Lawyer become involved?
Under the Judicature Act, anyone may make a referral to the OCL and ask them to consider conducting an inquiry. The OCL can receive referrals in parenting time and decision-making responsibility matters in one of the four following ways:
- If the issue of parenting time or decision-making responsibility is before the court, a judge can make a referral requesting that the OCL intervene to represent the child or their best interests.
- A parent or guardian can make a referral and ask the OCL to represent their child. The parent or guardian can make this request themselves by filling out an OCL Referral Form. To request an OCL Referral Form, call 902-368-4842.
- Any member of the public (e.g., teachers, family members, health care professionals, etc.) may make a referral and request the OCL become involved in a matter by filling out a Referral Form. To request a referral form, call 902-368-4842.
- The Children's Lawyer may inquire in a matter on their own initiative.
Following an inquiry by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL), the OCL can become involved in order to represent a child in a proceeding involving parenting time and decision-making responsibility.
A Children’s Lawyer is also allowed under the Judicature Act to represent children in dispute resolution processes, such as mediation, in order to assist parents in high-conflict situations to reach resolutions outside of the court.
Will the Office of the Children’s Lawyer automatically become involved if I ask them to be?
No, not necessarily. Just because someone makes a referral to the OCL, it does not necessarily mean the OCL will become involved. When the OCL receives an OCL Referral Form, the next step is for the OCL to determine whether it is appropriate for the OCL to do an inquiry into the matter. If the OCL decides to conduct an inquiry, the OCL would then take steps to determine if it is necessary and in the child’s best interests for the OCL to intervene to represent the child. It is up to the OCL to decide whether to become involved.
The OCL only intervenes in matters where issues relating to parenting time or decision-making responsibility are in dispute and the OCL determines that they can assist the child.
Sometimes the OCL may determine that there are services other than the OCL that may be more appropriate for the family at this time, such as mediation, parent education courses, etc.
I received a letter from the OCL that says they received a referral about my family. What does this mean?
If someone makes a referral to the OCL about your child, the OCL’s next step will usually be to review the referral and determine whether the OCL will conduct an inquiry. The OCL may decide based on the information in the referral to begin conducting an inquiry immediately.
To help the OCL determine whether it is necessary and in your child’s best interests for the OCL to become involved, the OCL will usually need the child’s parents/caregivers to answer some questions about what resources your family has already taken advantage of to help the parents reduce their conflict. This is part of the normal information-gathering that the OCL does to determine whether or not to get involved. If you have questions about how to complete the documents sent by the OCL, please call the OCL at 902-368-4842.
What does the OCL consider after receiving a referral?
When the OCL receives a referral, the first step for the OCL is to determine whether the referral relates to a matter where the OCL has the jurisdiction (authority) to become involved. For example, the OCL has no authority to intervene in some matters including, but not limited to:
- Child protection matters;
- The schooling of children (other than issues relating to the decision-making responsibility regarding the education of children); or
- Concerns with the provision of government services to children.
The OCL also considers whether parents have had the opportunity to use other resources that may assist them to de-escalate conflict, as peaceful co-parenting is in the best interests of children. Additionally, other resources may be better positioned than the OCL to assist children in some situations. When the OCL receives a referral, generally, the OCL will contact the co-parents to determine what resources the parents have already used to assist them to address the issues that may have led to the referral.
When the OCL decides to do an inquiry, what steps might they take?
When the OCL determines that the OCL will conduct an inquiry, the OCL may do this inquiry by doing some or all of the following:
- reviewing the court file (if there is one);
- sending intake forms to parents requesting detailed information about their circumstances and the circumstances of the child;
- conducting individual interviews with the parents and/or the child; and
- collecting relevant information about the child from government departments and agencies and other persons and organizations connected with the child client (e.g. school, medical professionals, coaches, therapists, etc.).
The OCL can require that this information be provided without the consent of the parents or the party or body that possesses the information.
The Children’s Lawyer can refer family members to services outside of the OCL that the Children’s Lawyer determines may assist the family, such as parent education programming, counselling, or mediation.
Where appropriate, the Children’s Lawyer will work with the parents to try to help them come to a resolution, to improve their co-parent communication, and/or to strengthen child-parent relationships.
If the matter is before the Court, the Children’s Lawyer might make submissions on behalf of the child in Court, and the Court will decide what is in the child’s best interests. If the matter is not before the court, the Children’s Lawyer has the authority to start a court proceeding on behalf of the child.
When the OCL decides to conduct an inquiry, what does the OCL consider when deciding whether to intervene?
The OCL is empowered under the Judicature Act to take a variety of steps during the inquiry stage. These steps can range from:
- the OCL intervening to act as legal counsel for the child in the proceeding or to bring a proceeding in Court;
- representing the child at an alternative dispute resolution process;
- requesting a Views of the Child Report or a Parenting Arrangements Assessment; or
- referring the parents and/or child to resources.
The OCL considers that full intervention to act the child’s lawyer should only happen where alternative resources have failed to sufficiently reduce conflict or where steps are not being taken to appropriately consider the child’s best interests.
In considering whether an intervention may be effective, the OCL will consider things like:
- When considering the circumstances of this child and the family, given the legal tools and jurisdiction (authority) of the OCL, is there a solution that the OCL can take steps to obtain that would assist the child?
- If yes, is that outcome one that may be more appropriately provided by a different service? (e.g. a therapeutic provider such as a therapist or counsellor, parent education, etc.)
- If the OCL was to intervene, what is the likelihood that intervention would reduce the conflict between the co-parents that may be impacting the child?
- Is the conflict or litigation at an early stage and have the parents had a reasonable opportunity to try to resolve the matter without the intervention of the OCL?
- Are there legal steps in the litigation that are not being taken that would benefit the child?
- If yes, why are these steps not being taken and should the OCL intervene to take them?
- What, if any, are the risks to the child of the OCL intervening?
- What, if any, risks to the child are there if the OCL does not intervene?
- Are the views and preferences of the child being appropriately considered?
- If no, considering the authority of the OCL, what is the best method to ensure the interests of the child are before the Court or considered in a dispute resolution process?
The order of the list above is not an indication of the priority of any one particular consideration. The OCL will consider the unique needs and circumstances of each child when reviewing each consideration listed above.
Does the Office of the Children’s Lawyer only become involved in Court cases?
No. The OCL can become involved in cases that are before the Court and in matters that are not before the Court if the issue relates to parenting time and decision-making responsibility. The OCL ultimately decides whether or not to get involved in a matter.
What happens when a Children’s Lawyer represents a child?
When the OCL decides to intervene and represent a child in a parenting time and/or decision-making responsibility matter, the Children’s Lawyer becomes the lawyer for the child. . The Children’s Lawyer does not represent either parent. In fact, the Children’s Lawyer can intervene and represent the child without the consent of the parents. The OCL has the authority to do this under the Judicature Act.
When a Children’s Lawyer is representing a child, the child is the Children’s Lawyer’s client. That means that the Children’s Lawyer does not take instructions from the parent or report to the parent.
When representing a child, a Children’s Lawyer may:
- meet with the child’s parents or anyone asking for parenting time or decision-making responsibility in respect of the child
- meet with the child as many times as the Children’s Lawyer believes is necessary
- determine the child’s views, where possible
- contact relevant sources of information, like teachers, healthcare providers, childcare providers, counsellors, etc.
- meet with the parents or other parties to provide feedback and, where appropriate, suggest ways to resolve the issues between the parents
- refer parents to resources that may assist them with co-parenting more peacefully
- participate in dispute resolution processes like mediation to represent the interests of the child
- participate in court proceedings to represent the child and their best interests, and to tell the court what position they are taking on behalf of the child
- request a family court clinician prepare a Parenting Arrangement Assessment or a Views of the Child report
Remember, if your family law matter is before the court, it is the judge that decides what is in the child’s best interests. The job of the Children’s Lawyer is to make sure that the interests of the child are represented. For more information about the authority of Children’s Lawyer in Prince Edward Island, please see section 33.1 of the Judicature Act which you can find here.
I’m a parent and I don’t agree with a decision made or an action taken by a Children’s Lawyer in my court matter. What can I do?
It is important to remember that the OCL becomes involved in family court matters to ensure that your child’s interests are before the court. We appreciate that you may feel strongly about your position, but the OCL represents the child in family court proceedings, not the parents. Each decision that is made by the OCL to intervene, to take an action, or to close a file, is made with the consideration of what is in the best interests of the child in that child’s unique circumstances. We appreciate your understanding that while you may not agree with the position or actions of a Children’s Lawyer, they are the lawyer for the child and make decisions based on your child’s views and best interests.
Is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer a free service?
Yes, the OCL is a free, government-funded service.
Who can I contact for more information?
Office of the Children's Lawyer