How to Have Your Child’s Wishes or Views Heard in BC Family Custody Disputes
How to Have Your Child’s Wishes or Views Heard in BC Family Custody Disputes
When it is appropriate to have your child’s wishes heard? How can you have your child’s wishes or views heard by the judge?
Our Vancouver Child Custody Lawyers know that child custody disputes are painful, long and heart wrenching. In appropriate circumstances, it is vital to know how to have your child’s views or wishes heard by the judge so that the judge can make the right decision.
When parents can’t agree on an appropriate parenting arrangement, they must ask a judge or arbitrator to order one. Any judge or arbitrator is merely a stranger who in a very limited amount of time, must get to know you, the other parent, the needs of your child and other people around him/her, and decide what is to your child’s best interests.
As Vancouver family lawyers, it always blows our minds why two parents who know each other and the child should leave such important decision to a stranger instead of compromising and having control over parenting arrangements. But sometimes and due to many reasons, litigation is the only way to go. Before you go the litigation route though, make sure you exhaust all opportunities to settle because litigation will likely hurt your child more than helping him/her.
If custody litigation is the only option, you must utilize all available means to make sure the judge has most if not all the information he or she needs in order to make the right decision relating to your child. One of those measures is knowing how to have your child’s wishes or views heard.
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When to Have Child’s Wishes or Views Heard?
Short answer is when your child is old enough to have his or her views considered and given weight. Just how old should he/she be, you ask? Well it really depends based on your child’s level of maturity. But based on case precedent and the previous BC family law cases I have seen, consider these as loose guidelines:
- If your child is between 2 to 6 years old, his or her wishes or views will likely have little to no weight whatsoever and will be pretty much ignored;
- If your child is between 7 and 11 years old, the judge may give some weight to his/her views but those views will likely not call all the shots and will only be a small factor in the overall decision on BC parenting time and parenting arrangements.
- If your child is between 12 to 18 years old, generally the judge will place heavy emphasis on the child’s wishes or views. If the child is over 15 years old, the judge will almost always go with what the child’s wishes are because.. well.. no one can really tell a teenager what to do.
However, note that in cases of child alienation, if the judge finds that a parent has alienated the child, the judge may go against the child’s wishes and/or order the child to attend counselling to heal his or her relationship with the alienated parent.
Let’s say you child is over 12 years old and you want to make sure the judge is aware of his/her wishes. Here are 6 ways to have the child’s wishes heard:
1. Views of the Child Reports
Views of the Child Reports are reports made under s.211 of the Family Law Act. A professional such as a psychologist or counselor meets with the child, interviews the child, asks various questions about what the child wants as far as parenting time and arrangements go, takes notes and relays the wishes of the child to the Court. Usually these professionals will file the report with the court and provide copies to the parents. If the professional feels as though the child has been trained to say what he/she says, they will indicate this in their report to the judge. These reports are quite short. About 2-7 pages long and cost around $1000 to $3000 dollars. For a list of professionals who can do these reports, click here. For information on how to get these reports ordered through the courts, click here.
2. Hear the Child Reports
Hear the Child reports are reports which are ordered under s.211 of the Family Law Act. Certified professionals such as senior family lawyers, parenting coordinators, psychologists, counselors, etc, can prepare these reports. These reports are more superficial than the Views of the Child Report because they merely relay what the child says to the judge. Imagine someone taking transcripts of someone else talking. That’s it. These professionals do not render an opinion on whether the child was trained to say what he/she says. These reports are short. About 2-4 pages and cost around $500 to $1500 dollars. For a list of some professionals who can do these reports, click here.
3. Complete s.211 Reports
These reports are very comprehensive reports generally done by registered psychologists or counselors. These professionals interview and assess parents, references, children and other people close to the children and write a very in-depth report relating to the best parenting arrangements for the child. A part of these reports revolves around what the child’s wishes or views are. These reports if done privately cost around $10,000 to $20,000. If they are done through the government, they cost nothing (although they are not always as complete and in depth as the private ones are). They are usually between 20 to 100 pages long. For more information on full s.211 reports, click here.
4. The Judge Interviews the Child
Judges have the power and permission to interview children and obtain their views if they see if. Generally judges are hesitant to do this and would rather leave the tasks to a s.211 reporter as #1 to #3 above. However, in some cases they may decide to have a personal interaction with the child to have a better understanding of the family dynamics. Usually this is a decision that the judge makes personally. It is very rare to ask a judge to do it and quite frankly, can be awkward for the judge. You have the option of asking for this but it is not always recommended.
5. Child Writes an Affidavit
In cases involving older children, usually between the age of 13 to 17, the child may want to write an affidavit and relay his/her wishes to the Court. This usually happens in very acrimonious cases and judges do not always like seeing children’s affidavit. This is because a child writing an affidavit in favour of one of the parents gives a huge signal to the judge that the parent has convinced or brainwashed the child to take sides, get involved in litigation and hate the other parent even more. A child writing an affidavit against one of his/her parents is mostly a signal that the child has been alienated. Sometimes judges exclude the affidavit, do not read it or place very little weight on it in an attempt to discourage parents from using children to get their way in child custody disputes.
6. Child Gets a Lawyer to Represent Him/Her
This one is a lot more complicated and requires its own blog which I will write shortly. Suffice to say, courts are VERY hesitant to allow a child to have a lawyer in BC family law cases because they think it will only add more acrimony and will involve the child in bitter custody war which can harm the child immensely and permanently.
Custody and parenting time in British Columbia cases are each unique. They are fact-specific and come in as different shapes and forms as we come as human beings. If you are at the beginning, in the middle or the end of a Vancouver custody dispute, make sure you at least consult with an experienced family lawyer to obtain the best strategy and guidance on how to navigate your dispute.
Contact our award winning Vancouver family lawyers at 604-974-9529, email us at email@example.com or get in touch.