BY VALERIE DYE
In dealing with custody issues the courts are concerned that the child should have as much contact as possible with both parents as it is felt that it is in the best interest of the child to have contact with both parents. This is elaborated in section 16 (10) of the Divorce Act.
To this end even where one parent has sole custody of the child and the primary residence of the child is with that person, the court often grants access to the other person. Access if often arranged according to a parenting plan but can also be set out as reasonable access upon reasonable notice to the other party.
What happens when there is a fear that the child may come to some harm while in the company of the party seeking access? Since the court very rarely denies access of a child to a parent, the court may in certain circumstances order supervised access until it becomes certain that the access parent is responsible enough to have unsupervised visits. Supervised access may be ordered in cases where the access parent is violent, has an drug or alcohol addiction or has other health problems that make it unsafe for the child to be with that parent when no one else is around
To facilitate supervised access for families, the Ontario Government has established a number of supervised access centres to allow parents to have access visits with their children under the supervision of trained personnel. During those visits the children are monitored by the staff at all times so that there will be no risk that the visiting parent will harm the child. Further, if there has been a history of domestic violence between the parties and they do not wish to meet each other when the child is being dropped off or picked up at the Access Centre, the center will arrange for pick up and drop off times to be staggered.
Apart from services provided by the Access Centres, parents can have their own private arrangements in place for supervised access. For instance, a grandparent may volunteer to provide supervised access.
The Needs and Views of the Child: Very often the court may wish to find out more about the needs of a child in custody proceedings. If the child is old enough the court may wish to learn about the views of the child. In such cases the Court may order that the Office of the Children’s lawyer be appointed to represent the child. In order to determine the needs of the child, the Office of the Children’s lawyer will carry out its own investigations and provide the court with a report and recommendations regarding the needs of the child. At times the Office of the Children’s lawyer simply presents the views of the child to the Court.
The appointment of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer is not automatic and they may decide not to act in a particular case.
Apart for the Office of the Children’s lawyer the court may also order assessments from professionals such as psychologists or psychiatrists to examine the needs and interest of the child and the ability of the parents to provide for those needs.