In September 2012 at Opening of Courts, the Honourable Chief Justice Heather Smith announced that the Superior Court will be prioritizing its focus on children at risk within the family court system, including child protection cases and high-conflict family law cases.
Now the Superior Court has released its statement of objectives, “Seven Pathways to Success,” to carry out its initiatives on behalf of these children.
To achieve the objectives, the Court will adopt a multidisciplinary approach that will enlist the aid of the judiciary and court staff. It will also call on stakeholders including the Ministry of the Attorney General, Legal Aid Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies, and the Office of the Children’s lawyer.
The legal profession, of course, is part of the initiative. The Court will engage with the legal profession to develop criteria for a recognized specialist designation in children’s law, in consultation with the Law Society and the various major bar associations. At the moment, the only specialist designation available to family law lawyers is that of family law specialist, which does not necessarily include expertise in children’s law.
The Court is calling upon the law schools and academia to develop a children’s law curriculum and clinical programs, and to make family law study a core requirement for a law degree. Currently, family law courses are electives in Ontario’s law schools, although family law competency is part of the bar exam.
Finally, the Court is also reaching out to medical and mental health professionals to address challenges in this area. It will look to mediators, licensed psychologists, registered social workers, and physicians, among others, to provide the court with the necessary assistance.
As a family law lawyer, I am grateful to see that one of the most vulnerable groups in family law – the children – is receiving such high-profile attention. I hope these initiatives will be sustained through the years. In particular, I would like to see a specialist designation established for children’s law.
This blog is provided for educational purposes and for your reference. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be regarded as such. The initiatives may have changed since the publication of this article.