Calgary Family Voice of The Child Lawyers help separated parents come up with parenting plans that focus of their children’s best interests. Practice Note 8 parenting capacity reports and bilateral assessment reports and Practice Note 7 Voice of the Child reports. In today’s blog one of MacLean Law’s top Calgary Family Voice of The Child Lawyers, Peter Graburn explains how these reports are initiated and how they can assist a judge and the parties reaching a negotiated or court ordered settlement. Roughly, 5% of Calgary family law go to trial but interim applications and hearings may occur early in a Calgary family law proceeding. Child parenting time cases properly involve taking the wishes of a child into account. It is often said ” a child has a voice but not the ultimate choice” in deciding a family case.
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Calgary Family Voice of The Child Lawyers 403-444-5503
“VOICE OF THE CHILD” REPORTS
In a previous post, “Best Interests of the Child”, we discussed the many considerations parents (and if the parents cannot agree, the Courts) in Alberta can use to determine what sort of custody and parenting arrangement is in the best interests of their children, only a few of these being:
- the age and maturity of the child;
- protecting the child’s physical, psychological and emotional safety (parenting ability);
- considering all the child’s needs and circumstances (child’s surroundings), and;
- the child’s own views and preferences (as best those can be determined).
Our top rated Calgary Family Voice of The Child Lawyers know that this does not mean the child can pick which parent (or some other person) they want to live with, but means the child can have some input into that decision, depending on the child’s particular circumstances (ie. age, vocabulary, maturity, etc.). Generally this input can start when a child is at least 10 – 12 years old, and becomes more significant as the child gets older.
But how does the child give this input? Rarely ( unless the child is almost an adult (age 18) or the child specifically wants to speak to the Judge) does the child give their input directly. Usually the child’s views and preferences are obtained by a third person expert, and then related to the parents or Judge.
Types Of Reports Used By Calgary Family Voice of The Child Lawyers
These people usually include:
Psychologists – psychologists are often asked to do an assessment and report (and possibly testify in Court) about custody and parenting issues of children. These assessments and reports can take two (2) forms (named after legal practice directions passed under the Alberta Rules of Court):
- Practice Note 7 (Voice of the Child Report) – PN7s are a less detailed investigation and report designed to answer a specific issue or question regarding the custody and parenting of the child (or perhaps to clarify what a child actually said or wants). They are designed to be a quick and effective (and somewhat less expensive) intervention for high conflict families. The psychologist will interview the child (and often the child’s parents after the child has been with them) and do a relatively brief report on their observations and descriptions of the child’s family and (sometimes) make suggestions to resolve or at least manage conflict in the family, whether in or out of Court;
- Practice Note 8 (Bi-Lateral Assessments) – PN8s, on the other hand, are a more detailed assessment and report designed to answer a broader, longer-term issue or question regarding the custody and parenting of the child (ie. which parent should have primary residence of the child). The psychologist will interview not only the child and their parents, but also other people involved in the child’s life (ie. siblings, relatives, teachers, etc.) and sometimes investigate the child’s surroundings (home, school, etc.) to evaluate and determine the over-all situation for the child and make more–detailed, longer-term recommendations. Consequently, they can take a great deal of time to complete and can be much more expensive than a “Voice of the Child” Report.
Lawyers – unlike psychologists (who are trained to be able to assess and evaluate both children and adults), lawyers can only provide non-evaluative statements regarding the views and preferences (“wishes”) of children. There are two ways lawyers can do this:
- Report on the Statements of the Child – the parents agree for a lawyer to meet with the child and report (either personally or in writing) to the parent or Court exactly what the child says to them about what they want, without offering any opinions or recommendations. This can often be done very quickly and is relatively inexpensive.
- Counsel for the Child – the lawyer is appointed counsel for the child and often acts on behalf of the child as a regular client, taking positions and representing the child’s wishes and interests in discussions with the child’s parents or in Court. In high conflict situations, the Court may order counsel for the child to be paid for through Alberta Legal Aid.
“Voice of the Child” reports, whether provided by social workers, psychologists or lawyers, are an effective way to present the child’s own views and preferences regarding their custody and parenting, and to avoid the often inevitable “he said – she said” situation of parents providing their children’s wishes. While they are not determinative on the issue, Voice of the Child reports may be one of the many factors Courts will look at in ultimately determining what is in the “child’s best interest” regarding their custody and parenting.
Calgary Voice of the Child Lawyers assist their clients arrange for a Voice of the Child report to be prepared and used in discussions between the parents deciding custody and parenting arrangements for their children or, if the parents cannot decide by themselves, make sure the child’s views are taken into account if the matter goes to Court.
Read another of our helpful blogs on how to reach a child focused solution in your parenting time negotiations and planning.
If you feel it is important that your child’s voice be heard or feel their views are tainted by an unfriendly parent call Peter Graburn, our senior associate that leads our team of Calgary Family Voice of The Child Lawyers, today at 403-444-5503.