Note: JFCY does not represent young people on these matters. Children receive legal services in family court (parenting orders and child welfare) through the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.
My parents are splitting up, what happens to me?
If your parents separate or divorce, decisions will be made about who you live with and who you will have contact with – including time with your parents, siblings and other relatives. This will also include who makes decisions for you on things such as health, education, culture, language, religion and spirituality, and significant extra-curricular activities.
This is either decided by your parents (under a “parenting and contact agreement”) or by an application to a court for a decision by a judge (“parenting and contact order”). It is the responsibility of the parent(s) and other adults to make applications to court for new parenting and contact orders, or to change an existing order.
In all decisions, your best interests are to be considered. For example: contact with your grandparents may be included if they are important people in your life that you should continue to have contact with.
If a case is in court, either parent or the judge can ask for your wishes to be represented by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL). This is not an area of law that our office engages in.
What is an assessment?
An assessment is a report prepared by a psychologist, social worker or other professional who may recommend where you should live. The assessor will meet with you and your parents, sometimes together and separately. What you say to the assessor can be put into the report. If you have questions about an assessment, a youth serving agency or lawyer can help you with this.
Do I have a say?
Once you are capable of understanding the situation, you have the right to give input by expressing your wishes. As you get older these views become more important.
In court, if the judge thinks it is a good idea to have a lawyer represent your wishes, the judge will appoint a lawyer from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. Sometimes your parents can ask the judge to appoint the Office of the Children’s Lawyer for you. If a lawyer is not appointed for you, you can ask your parent to talk to their lawyer about asking for this.
The court process of can be difficult for everyone and many people will have input into the decision-making process. Your wishes are important, however, you will not always get what you want.
How old must I be to decide for myself where I live?
If you are 16 years of age or older, you can generally decide where you want to live. This may or may not involve your parents – see the Leaving Home section of this Wiki for more information.
If you are under 16 years, depending on your ability to understand the situation, your views will generally be heard. Some courts have given a child the right to go to court to give their views on the parenting and contact order – this is not common. It is generally the responsibility of parents and other adults to go to court for parenting and contact order, and then either parent or the judge can ask for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) to represent your wishes.
The law is different for young people in the care of CAS. Speak to the Ombudsman’s Child and Youth Unit or a lawyer about about your situation.