The children’s best interest is of paramount importance in determining the issue of custody and access. In high conflict family law disputes, custody and access assessments are crucial in assisting family law judges in rendering decisions. The professional recommendations of a social worker or psychologist provide the courts with objective evidence from a neutral third party.
The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL), a division of the Ministry of the Lawyer General, is mandated to investigate and prepare custody and access reports. Upon reviewing the intake forms provided by the respective parties, the OCL determines whether they will become involved. In cases where the OCL denies involvement, parties are often left with the only alternative of retaining private assessors at a heafty cost of at least $8,000.00.
A recent Court of Appeal decision from last year, Bhajan v. Bhajan, 2010 ONCA 714 (CanLII) held that judges may request, but may not order, the involvement of the OCL’s Lawyer. Given the high volume of cases, the OCL has the discretion to decline involvement. Given the cost of litigation, mediation is undoubtedly a smart alternative to consider. Parties frequently act with impulse and bitterness in difficult times and believe that resorting to court system will bring finality to their legal disputes. Litigation is financially and emotionally draining and often unpredictable. The confrontational judicial system should only be a last resort.
At Connolly, Nichols, Allan and Snelling LLP, we consider cost-effective and practical options to resolving family law disputes.