The Office of the Children’s Lawyer
In this post, we look at the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL), which is a law office in the Ministry of the Attorney General that provides legal services to children and youth who are under the age of 18 in Ontario.
While they both represent children and youth on legal issues, JFCY and the OCL are different organizations doing different things.
What is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer?
The physical office where the OCL operates is in downtown Toronto, but there are lawyers and social workers across the province that work with the OCL, and services are available to children and youth anywhere in Ontario.
Lawyers who work for the OCL represent children in many areas of the law including custody and access disputes (when parents separate or get divorced), child protection (when a Children’s Aid Society is involved), and civil litigation (more about this below).
Social workers, who are also called Clinical Investigators at the OCL, may be involved in a case to prepare a report to the court in custody and access disputes and may also help lawyers who are representing children in these cases.
What does the office do?
There are two broad areas in which the OCL works – personal rights and property rights. The OCL does not provide representation or assistance in criminal matters. If you have an issue you think is related to criminal law, contact Justice For Children and Youth for further information and assistance.
Personal rights cases include custody and access matters and child protection proceedings. Often, in custody and access cases, parents are able to agree on many issues. There are times, however, where the adults cannot agree and the issues may become complicated. Usually, parents will have the opportunity to have a lawyer help them with their case. If the court thinks it is a necessary for the child or youth to have a lawyer, the court may request that the OCL provide representation to the child or youth. The court will ask the OCL to become involved when the court feels that it needs more information to protect the interests and needs of the child or youth.
One of your parents or the judge can make a referral to the OCL to request that the office becomes involved. If no one has made a request and you feel like you need a lawyer, you can ask one of your parents to ask the court for a referral to the OCL. However, just because the court asks the OCL to assist, it does not mean that the OCL will always become involved. The OCL makes the final decision whether or not to become involved in a custody or access case.
In cases where a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is involved, the CAS may apply to the court for an order that a child is in need of protection, and remove a child or youth from his or her home. This may happen for many reasons, including abuse and neglect. In most cases, the CAS, and the parent(s) or other adults involved in the case usually have their own lawyers. If the court thinks it is necessary to protect a child’s interests, the court may ask the OCL to provide a lawyer to represent the child or youth. If the court requests the OCL to provide representation in child protection cases, the OCL must do so.
Property rights cases involve civil litigation and estate and trust matters. In Ontario, children and youth (under 18 years of age) cannot sue or be sued in their own name. In a situation in which a child has a right to sue, or is being sued, the child needs someone to act as a Litigation Guardian, who will make decisions for a child in legal proceedings. This would most often come up in personal injury cases, for example if a child was in an accident.
Often, a parent, guardian, or other adult may be appointed by the court as a Litigation Guardian. However, there may be cases where this is not appropriate, or there is no one who is willing and able to act as a Litigation Guardian. If there is no other person available, the court may order that a lawyer from the OCL act as a Litigation Guardian.
The OCL also represents children and youth estate and trust cases. If a parent, guardian or relative passes away, there are many legal issues that come up for children and youth, including looking at the will, if there is one, to make sure it is valid, and making sure there is adequate support for the child from the estate of the person who has died.
Where can I get more information?
For more information, check out the Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s website here.
For more information on your rights in cases of separation and divorce, you can check out this pamphlet: Where Do I Stand? A Child’s Legal Guide to Separation and Divorce.
This blog post was written by JFCY volunteer Christine Doucet. Christine is a member of the PLE team and YouTube subcommittee, and is a recent graduate of OsgoodeHallLawSchool.
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