OCL stands for Office of the Children’s lawyer. The OCL is an official governmental agency that can appoint lawyers and/or clinical investigators to ascertain the views and/or best interests of children, children of which are either involved in the child protection system or children whose separated parents are in dispute over their care between them.
The appointment of the OCL occurs by the order of a judge, which may occur as the result of a motion, request of a parent, or consent of both parents. The appointment of the OCL is conducted under section 112 of the Courts of Justice Act of Ontario, and is thus at times referred to as a s.112 appointment. Whether or not the OCL appoints a lawyer for the children and/or a clinical investigator remains at the discretion of the OCL, not the judge. The judge can only order the referral, not the actual provision of service.
If the OCL accepts the referral, the OCL can then appoint a children’s lawyer to ascertain the interests or views of the child, and/or a clinical investigator to assess the situation and report back to the parents and court. Such assessment provided by the OCL tends to be less comprehensive than that provided by a private assessor appointed as the result of a s.30 order. There is no cost to the parents for this service.
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A section 30 assessment tends to be more comprehensive, is provided privately for a fee, paid for by one or both parents, and is required by an order of a judge under section 30 of the Children’s Law Reform Act of Ontario (CLRA). A s.30 assessment and the order of the judge may come about on the request or consent of one or both parents, or by the judge alone if the matters of contention are complex and/or there are serious concerns for mental health issues. These assessments can cost tens of thousands of dollars depending on the professional(s) hired (social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or any combination thereof).
In both cases, a neutral third party is engaged to assist in the determination of the best interests of children. The service provider will meet with both parents and will meet with the children; and the process is to proceed as neutrally as possible. In the case of the OCL, the service provider is determined by the OCL. In the case of a s.30 assessment, the service provider is chosen by the parents, and if they cannot choose the service provider between themselves, a judge may appoint the service provider given the consent of the service provider.
Involving the OCL or a private assessor and engaging in the process of assessment can require complex decisions. Consultation with a family law lawyer is suggested if a parent is considering either service. Parents are asked to consider a number of alternatives ahead of engaging either of these services, and your family law lawyer can be helpful in those considerations.