2 November 2018
Hearing the Child during Separation and Divorce
The Loss of the Child’s Voice
When a couple is going through a separation or divorce, the well-being of the children ought to be their first priority. While many parents may think that they have the best interests of their children in mind, they themselves are often busy trying to cope with the emotional and material consequences of a separation or divorce. Consequently, the voices of their children can unintentionally become lost in the process. This can leave children feeling misunderstood or alone in their pain, which can have long reaching consequences for families.
Given the complicated emotions involved in divorce, some children may choose not to talk to their parents at all about how they feel and what they are going through. Others may confide only in one parent, leaving the other parent in the dark, or left to conclude that the child is being “coached”. Sometimes a child in fact is being coached by one parent about what to say to the other. Children may also tell each respective parent what they think the parent wants to hear, in an attempt to keep the peace. All of this can result in parents receiving mixed messages about how the children are feeling and what they actually want and need, adding to the general confusion when it comes to making decisions.
How can I ensure my child’s voice is heard?
The Family Law Act clearly states that the views of the children should be considered when divorcing couples are making decisions related to parenting. However, there is no formalized process to ensure that children are heard in family law matters in British Columbia. Despite this, there are a number of options available to parents to ensure that their children’s views are heard in a neutral and non-threatening way. These include:
Hear the Child Reports
An individual, either a specially trained lawyer or a mental health professional, meets with the child and produces what is called a non-evaluative verbatim report. The interviewer begins by spending time developing a rapport with the child, and then carefully learns what the child’s views are regarding the separation and divorce, as well as any additional questions specifically requested by the parents.
A written report is then produced that sets out what the child has said, including what the child has given permission to be reported. The interviewer is careful not to show personal bias or make recommendations, but simply records the information that the child has provided in a neutral fashion. Hear the Child Reports can be completed in a very timely fashion, often within days or weeks. A Hear the Child Report is the most cost-effective option to gain an understanding of the child’s point of view.
Views of the Child Reports
This kind of report is completed by a mental health professional and is called an evaluative report. It has all of the aspects of the Hear the Child Report, but the interviewer may also provide recommendations or comments related to the psychological and emotional well-being of the child. The interviewer can also assess any potential coaching by either or both parents, which is a reason these reports are sometimes chosen over other kinds of reports. These kinds of reports can also be completed in a very timely fashion, yet cost more than a Hear the Child Report.
Section 211 Reports
Section 211 Reports are conducted by mental health professionals, and generally provide a full and complete psychological assessment of both the parents and children. They provide recommendations about what the parenting arrangements should be. These reports are generally very costly and can take some time to complete.
They are useful in situations where parents have serious disagreements about parenting arrangements and where one parent feels that the other parent is not capable of parenting the children or where there is a dispute about whether there should be shared parenting. These reports are often used by parents and counsel to assist with negotiations, or to provide to the court to assist with deciding on the parenting arrangements.
For parents who are looking for a non-biased and relatively quick way to ensure that their children’s views are being heard in the divorce process, particularly where there are difficulties determining the parenting arrangements, consider requesting a Hear the Child Report or a Views of the Child Report to clarify the child’s wants and needs. It is crucial that children’s views are heard by parents and decision makers as part of any separation or divorce process, as it is, after all, about the children.
More information about these reports can be found here: http://hearthechild.ca/
Fiona Beveridge is a lawyer in our Family Law Group and is certified to provide Hear the Child Reports