How Do I Get a Child's Views in a Report for the Court?
Children's views before the court
Under section 37(1) of the Family Law Act, when the court or the parties are making orders or agreements about guardianship, parenting arrangements, or contact with a child, the parties and the court must consider the best interests of the child only. Under section 37(2), this means that all of the child's needs and circumstances must be considered, including the child's views unless inappropriate to do so.
How do you get evidence of a child's views in front of a judge? The child's views can be presented to the court in a number of ways:
- the parties' (i.e. the parents or guardians) can provide evidence,
- the child might write a letter to the court,
- the judge might interview the child, or
- a lawyer might be appointed to represent the child (e.g. sections 202 and 203 of the Family Law Act).
There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to each.
Another option is to obtain a report about the child's views, so the report can be put before the court. Such a report can take the form of either:
- a Hear the child report, or
- a Views of the child report
These terms are often used interchangeably, but there are differences.
Hear the Child Reports
A hear the child report is a non-evaluative report. This means it does not offer an assessment or an opinion about the child's views. They are are prepared by a trained, neutral professional, usually a mental health professional, lawyer, mediator, or someone else with special training. The professional will interview the child, sometimes more than once, and then write a report summarizing what the child has said, using the child's own words as much as possible. These reports are different than other reports because all they talk about is what the child has said, and they don't provide the professional's assessment of the child's best interests, or even an opinion about what the child has said, although they sometimes include an assessment of whether or not a child is being influenced to say things by one or both of the parties.
Cost and time
Family justice counsellors are public employees who can prepare hear the child reports for free. Because there is such a demand for these reports and so few family justice counsellors trained to prepare them, it can take three to six months to get a report.
Some lawyers and privately employed mental health professionals can also prepare these reports, but for a cost. They can be prepared as quickly as the report writer's calendar allows. Sometimes they can be done the very same day, and more typically within about a week. The cost of these reports can range from $500 to $3,000, depending on the number of children involved and the reporter's hourly rate. The website of the BC Hear the Child Society lists the society's roster of trained lawyers and mental health professionals who do these non-evaluative reports, and indicates where they practice.
Views of the Child Report
As noted, hear the child reports are non-evaluative because they don't offer an assessment or opinion. As a result, they may not be appropriate in cases where an assessment is needed. This might be the case when the parents are concerned about the child's mental health or are worried that the child might be alienated or estranged from a parent. In these cases parents or guardians may want to get a view of the child report.
Where a more in-depth evaluation of a child's views is needed, section 211(1)(b) of the Family Law Act allows the court to go a step further and appoint someone to listen to a child and assess the views of a child in relation to a family law dispute. The court can also make orders about how the report will be paid for. When a mental health professional is asked to assess the child's views, the professional will do a lot more than simply speak to the child (which is what a 'hear the child report often involves). The assessor may give the child a test to complete and speak to the child's parents and the other important people in the child's life.
An evaluative report like this will present the child's views to the court, along with the professional's evaluation of the child's maturity and ability to express themselves, the strength and consistency of the child's views, and the extent to which the child's statements really reflect the child's actual preferences.
Evaluative views of the child reports like this are still cheaper to get than the more comprehensive needs of the child assessments (see the page How Do I Get a Needs of the Child Assessment? for more information on that process). Nevertheless, views of the child reports can still cost somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000. They can usually be completed in two to three months.
Arranging for one of these reports
The parties can agree that one of these types of reports will be prepared. They need to agree on whether the report will be evaluative, like a hear the child report, or non-evaluative, like a voice of the child report, pick someone to prepare it, and decide how it will be paid for.
If they can't agree, either party can apply to court for an order that a report be prepared. If you have to apply to court for such an order, make sure that you do your homework before going to court so that you can tell the judge:
- what kind of report you want,
- who you think should prepare it and whether they are available,
- how much the cost will be, and
- when it can be completed.
The order will usually specify who is being retained to prepare the report and can also say how the report will be paid for.
Once the report is ordered or agreed upon, the parties should get in touch with the professional who will be preparing the report. The professional will tell you what happens next, when the interviewing process will begin, and when the completed report will likely be ready. Be prepared to pay the professional a retainer for the report and sign an agreement with that professional setting out the costs, and the scope of their work. The professional can also give you some tips on how to explain the interview to your children.
You can find more information about hear the child reports (non-evaluative) and views of the child reports (evaluative) in the chapter Children in Family Law Matters.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Mark Norton, September 14, 2023.
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.