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  • Writer's pictureJared Davies, Lawyer

What is a Voice of the Child Report?

Overview


A Voice of the Child Report (VOC) is a tool sometimes used in family law to give children a voice in legal proceedings that directly affect them. A VOC is a report created by a professional, such as a psychologist or social worker, who meets with a child to obtain their views and preferences regarding their living arrangements and relationships with their parents. Provided there is consent or a court order, the professional can be retained privately or through the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) if accepted.

In parenting-time and/or decision-making disputes, the court will look at the best interests of the child. One of the factors in the best interests test, pursuant to the Divorce Act and the Children’s Law Reform Act, is the child’s views and preferences:


(e) the child’s views and preferences, giving due weight to the child’s age and maturity, unless they cannot be ascertained;


The purpose of a VOC is to give children the opportunity to express their views and to have those views considered by the court in making decisions about parenting arrangements. There are several factors that the professional conducting the VOC will consider when meeting with the child, including the child's age, maturity level, emotional and psychological well-being, and ability to express themselves. The views expressed in a VOC are not binding on the court, but they are given weight and consideration in determining the best interests of the child. As stated in M.I. v. S.M., 2021 ONCJ 81: [15] In each proceeding, the Court ordered a Voice of the Child Report for each child. The Court now has before it a Voice of the Child Report for C. in the other proceeding, and a Voice of the Child Report for M.O. in this proceeding. M.O.’s views and preferences as expressed in the Voice of the Child Report will factor into my decision making.

It is important to note that a VOC is not an evaluation of parenting skills or an investigation into allegations of abuse or neglect. Rather, it is a way for the court to consider the child's views and preferences when making decisions about parenting arrangements.

When and when not appropriate


In some cases, a VOC may not be appropriate or necessary. For example, if the child is very young or has a developmental disability that makes it difficult for them to express their views, a VOC may not be appropriate. Additionally, if there are concerns that one parent may be influencing the child's views, a VOC may not be appropriate. The follow cases explore these issues:

In Canepa v. Canepa, 2018 ONSC 5154, one parent had concerns about the age of the children and the potential for influence or manipulation from the other parent:

22. Although the Respondent does not seek to engage the Office of Children’s Lawyer, the Children’s Lawyer has offered to provide Voice of the Child Reports for children 7 and older. The older child is 8 ¼ and falls into that category and ought to be given an opportunity to have a voice. The younger child is 6 years and 7 months. Dr. Walker-Kennedy, who has worked with the OCL and has experience in such reports, is content to undertake the report although the younger child is short of 7 years by 5 months.

23. The Applicant is concerned that the Respondent is influencing the children to express a desire to see their father more and, because the Voice of the Child Report is not “evaluative”, the author will not explore whether the responses are meaningful and well-reasoned. I agree that the Voice of the Child Report could be used by a parent to manipulate a child to parrot what the parent wants. Indeed, there are situations where one parent has alienated a child or has the potential to alienate a child against the other parent and there is a risk that the Voice of the Child Report would serve to further the goals of the alienator parent. That is not the case here. Both parents enjoy wonderful relationships with their children. There is no suggestion that either is trying to reduce or eliminate the relationship of the other with the children. This is not an investigation into parenting capacity. The parents implicitly if not explicitly acknowledge that the other is capable of identifying and responding to the needs of the children. This is an exploration of increased parenting time. This is a proper role for a Voice of the Child Report.

In B.J.S. v. X.Q.Z., 2019 ONSC 78l, the court did not allow for a VOC because of a potential for negative influence from one of the parents:

[20] Justice Kitely, in her decision in Gajda v. Canepa, [2018] O.J. No. 4534 (S.C.J.) at par 23, further highlights my concern in ordering a VOC report in this case:

The applicant is concerned that the respondent is influencing the children to express a desire to see their father more and, because the voice of the child report is not quote evaluative”, the author will not explore whether the responses are meaningful and well reasoned. I agree that the voice of the child report could be used by a parent to manipulate child to parent what the parent wants. Indeed, there are situations where one parent has alienated a child or has the potential to alienate a child against the other parent and there is a risk that the voice of the child report would serve to further goals of the alien a tour parent. That is not the case here. Both parents enjoy wonderful relationships with their children. There is no suggestion that either is trying to reduce or eliminate the relationship of the other with the children.

[21] In the case before me, a VOC report will do nothing but encourage further manipulation of these children and delay resolution of the issues. As such, I am dismissing the Respondent’s motion for an order requesting that the OCL conduct a Voice of the Child Report. These children will be best served by the matter moving quickly to trial. There are many contentious issues and facts that are best resolved at trial.

In Byers v Byers, 2023 ONSC 297, the court clarified that they will determine on a case-by-case basis if a child is too young for a VOC.

[3] The applicant (“father“) seeks an order for a Voice of the Child report (“VCR””) for the two children, R. aged 8 and A. aged 6. Specifically, he asks for the appointment of Ms. Seidel, whose qualifications to fulfill this role are conceded by the respondent (“mother”) and who has consented to undertake this task.


[25] The OCL does not have hard age guidelines for VCR reports. The court appreciates that every child is unique, including their maturity level, at any given chronological age. While I am concerned that A. is too young, Ms. Seidel has indicated that she will interview A., as well as her brother. Accordingly, I will reluctantly grant the order requested so that both children are interviewed. If Ms. Siedel finds A. is too immature to convey her views and preferences in any meaningful way, she may abort the interview or address those concerns in her report.

Conclusion


Overall, the VOC can be an important tool in family law cases to ensure children have a voice in decisions that directly affect them. It allows the court to consider the child's perspective and needs when making decisions about their living and decision-making arrangements with their parents.

Comments


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