We are often approached by parents who tell us that they want the court to consider their child's wishes in the determination of their family law matter. It is possible for the court to take this into consideration through a "Views of the Child Report" ("VOCR") prepared pursuant to section 15 of the Family Relations Act. A VOCR is an assessment prepared for the court for regarding the child's views on particular issues. The child's preferred school, residence or parenting arrangement might be issues appropriate for such an assessment. The report can be made by either a mental health professional such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist or by a lay person such as a family justice counselor trained to speak with children on such issues. The VOCR usually involves one interview with each of the child's parents individually, and then two separate interviews with the child on his or her own . One of the reasons that the child is interviewed twice is to ensure neutrality - the interviews are arranged such that each parent brings the child to one of the interviews. Each assessor has his or her own assessment style and procedure and the costs can vary dramatically depending on what type of assessor you retain and how in-depth the report is. The report will generally not comment on the Child's views. While other types of reports, for example a Custody and Access report, might conclude with the assessor's opinions and recommendations, a VOCR will simply endeavour to accurately report the wishes and opinions of the subject child. Things to keep in mind about a Views of the Child Report:
- A Views of the Child Report is not usually recommended for young children. It does depend on the maturity level of the particular child. However, the general rule of thumb is approximately age 12.
- Professionals have raised many objections to these reports and the impact on the children by involving them in the parenting dispute. Involving the children may make them anxious and feel as though they need to choose one parent over the other or that they are saddled with making this momentous decision that even both their parents together can't seem to work out. Children often express in these reports that they don't want to be responsible for making any decisions and that they are worried to express their real opinions as one parent or the both may be upset by their views.
- The report is intended as an information tool for the court. The court can make any decision that it believes is in the best interests of the child and does not have to follow any of the preferences the child relates in the views of the child report.
- If any parental alienation or parental coaching happening in either home then the report could be ineffective and a full custody and access report may be more appropriate.
If you are thinking about obtaining a Views of the Child report please contact one of the family and divorce lawyers at Henderson Heinrichs LLP to discuss the options and whether it is appropriate for your situation.