Author: Peter D. Crowther

Navigating through the emotional complexities of separation, particularly when children are involved, can be difficult. Decisions regarding parenting time and decision-making responsibilities can be highly contentious and have a significant impact on the children involved. In recognizing the unique perspective of children, Canadian law, in alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, underscores the importance of allowing children to express their views and preferences in family matters that affect them.

The challenge is how the child’s views are to be incorporated into family disputes. One approach taken by courts in Nova Scotia is through a Voice of the Child Report (VOCR). A VOCR is particularly helpful when there are contentious parenting issues, offering the court insights into the child’s preferences and wishes along with any worries or concerns.

Either party in the proceedings, or the court itself, may make a motion to request a VOCR be ordered. When determining whether to order such a report, the court will consider several factors, including:

Age, maturity, and authenticity are the most salient considerations. While there is no set age at which a child can be interviewed, typically, a child 10 years or older is an appropriate age, and under 7 is not. Generally, the older the child is, the more weight the court will give to their preferences.

Regarding authenticity, the court must be cautious of potential undue influence or coaching by one parent, as this could compromise the impartiality and validity of the child’s views. Courts may give limited weight to a VOCR in cases where evidence suggests undue influence or alienation.

The VOCR process involves a third-party assessor, chosen for their neutrality and objectivity. With limited access to the court file, the assessor reviews brief descriptions of each parent’s proposals for parenting. Factors such as the child’s age, cultural background, language, and maturity are carefully considered during the interview process.