Voice of the Child/Hear the Child Reports

I am pleased to announce that I am now doing Voice of Child (also called “Hear the Child”) reports for children who are between 8 and 17 years old. I have been a lawyer with the Office of the Children’s Lawyer since 2016. I have also completed specific training on private Hear the Child reports with the B.C. Hear the Child Society.

A Voice of the Child report is an opportunity for your child to, through me, tell both parents what it is that that child considers to be important in terms of parenting time, location, activities and physical and emotional supports. The views of your child are a key piece in determining what is best for that child.

The process is that each parent completes a detailed intake form so that I have information about that child’s life and what each parent believes is best for that child. I then meet with the child at my office for up to two hours. I then draft a report, which will be a mixture of summary and of verbatim statements from the child. I then meet with the child again, at least a week later, for up to two more hours. In that second meeting the child and I go through the report to make sure that what is being said is accurate and that the child wants to make those statements (children are free to decide that they want to say a great deal or only a very little). I then complete and provide the report to each parent.

If you have more than one child, each child completes this process with me independently and each child has a separate report.

I charge a flat rate of $1600 plus HST for each child.





I am pleased to announce that I am now a Certified Specialist in Mediation with both the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) and with the Ontario Association of Family Mediators (OAFM).  I would be pleased to assist in mediating disputes about parenting time, parental decision making, child support, spousal support and equalization of property (or any other family law issues).  I conduct mediation via Zoom.  Parties may have their own lawyer participate in the mediation as well or mediation can be done without lawyers present but with lawyers reviewing any draft agreement before it is signed.  Mediation can be booked for either a half day or a full day.  Both options include a private initial intake meeting with each party as well as the drafting of any agreement that is reached within the time period available.  I charge $400 (plus HST) per hour for mediation (the same as my private hourly rate for legal representation or advice).  The parties may split this cost between them.

Ways to Keep Your Legal Bill Down in Family Law


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Ways to Keep Your Legal Bill Down in Family Law

The cost of retaining a family law lawyer can range from cases where a client only needs a one hour consultation to straightforward and amicable separations where each party just needs some advice and someone to draft a Separation Agreement, which might be as little as four hours of legal work, to serious contested matters that are fought in court which might take many hours of work and be a significant expense. There was a case reported in The Globe and Mail recently where two separated parents spent two million dollars on lawyers between them fighting about access issues in court. While that is clearly exceptional, I have often had clients who have had previous lawyers issue what I consider to be shockingly high bills for the issues in that particular case.

The goal of lawyers and clients alike should be to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement, whether through agreement or, if necessary, from a court order, while spending as little in legal fees as is necessary to achieve that result.

Here are some issues that you might consider when thinking about how to minimize your legal fees in a family law matter:

Before you retain a lawyer:

-Check to see who will be billing time on your case and what their rates are. Consider whether you want to have multiple people on your file.

Obviously the hourly rate of the lawyer who is going to work on your case is a factor in the overall cost of your case. You should also know who else will be working on your case. Will there be a clerk? Will there be junior lawyers? Will there be an articling student? If so, what are the rates of each of those people? While there can be advantages of having multiple people working on your case, consider the time that each person working on your case will spend becoming familiar with the facts of your particular matter. Are you going to be paying for meetings where one member of your team briefs another member of your team on your case? If your matter is going to go to court, how many people on your legal team are going to come to court and are they all going to be billing you for their time? Consider whether it would be better to have just one person working on your case.

-Check if you will be charged for photocopy pages, for mileage, for parking, for stamps, for other things of that nature.

Some law firms charge you for each piece of paper that they use in your case. In other words, they not only charge you for the time that it takes to write a letter, as any lawyer would, but they charge you for each page of paper they print or photocopy. The per-page rate is often far higher than what seems reasonable. I had a lawyer once tell me that she made $100,000 in a year just in charging clients for photocopy and fax pages. That doesn’t seem right to me. The same is true for mileage. A lawyer will charge you for the time that he or she spends getting to court, which makes sense. Some lawyers will also charge you a mileage fee for that driving. You should know what that fee will be and consider that added cost. My personal policy is that I don’t charge my clients for any of those things. What my clients pay for is my time and any substantial costs I incur on my client’s behalf such as process server fees or court filing fees.

-Check if the firm has a policy about charging you more for a successful result.

I have seen retainer agreements in family law where there is a clause about charging you extra for a particularly good result. That also seems wrong to me. Any lawyer you hire should be trying to get as good a result for you as is possible. A lawyer is already charging you a substantial amount of money for the time that they spend. Your lawyer should not charge you an extra fee for doing a good job. That should be the expectation for all cases.

After you retain a lawyer:

-Put your best foot forward to try to settle your case

Almost all family law cases end in a settlement. Very few cases go to trial and even fewer cases need to go to trial.  The single biggest factor in the cost of your family law case is likely to be how long it takes to reach a settlement or final order. You should do everything you can to make it so that you reach that settlement as quickly as possible. Be as generous as you can in making a settlement offer to your ex and make offers as frequently as you can. Make sure that if things have to go to court it is because the other party is being unreasonable and not because it is you who is being unreasonable.

-Consider whether you need an email a phone call or a meeting with your lawyer.

While you are going to need to communicate with your lawyer to give them the information that they need to do a good job, that communication can be a big part of your bill. Before you call your lawyer, consider whether it will take your lawyer less time if you send an email. Some things are best done on the phone or in person but many times an email is just as good or better for communication and will take your lawyer less time.  If you do call your lawyer, make sure your phone call stays focussed and that you are not simply venting or using your lawyer as a therapist.

-Be diligent on doing what is asked of you so that your lawyer doesn’t need to send reminder emails

You are going to be given homework from your lawyer. For example your lawyer will ask you to gather your financial information so that he or she can draft a Financial Statement for you to swear. Do that homework promptly and deliver it to your lawyer all at once. You don’t want to spend money having your lawyer follow up with you on things that he or she has already asked you for.

-Make sure you will be sent bills on a monthly basis so that you can monitor how things are going

Your legal bills should not be a surprise. Regular monthly billing will allow you to monitor how things are going and how much your case is costing.

How do you count time to know whether you meet the 40% rule for child support?


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How do you count time to know whether you meet the 40% rule for child support?

Before you read this post about one of the finer details of child support, you might want to read my explanation of how child support generally works. You can find that at https://hutchesonlaw.ca/?page_id=24

One of the questions that often comes up in family law within the issue of child support is, how do you know if someone falls above or below the 40% threshold? There are quite a few court cases where a parent has been close to the 40% mark and there has been an argument about whether that parent falls over or under the threshold. If you are interested in reading one of the leading cases on this issue, you might start with this one: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2013/2013onsc1801/2013onsc1801.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQAVTC4uTC4gdi4gTS5DLiwgWzIwMTNdAAAAAAE&resultIndex=2

Usually when people are trying to roughly calculate 40% they count overnights. If you are counting overnights on a regular two week schedule, the threshold is 6 out of 14 overnights. When people get into more of a fight about the 40% threshold for child support, the answer of the courts is generally to count days (in which case the threshold is 146 days per year) and sometimes to actually count hours (in which case the threshold is 3504 hours per year). What is tricky is how you count hours where the child is not with either parent. Many people would think that you wouldn’t count the hours that a child is in school or with a nanny for either parent. That is not the approach that the courts have settled on though. Hours at school or with a nanny are counted towards the parent who is deemed to be responsible for the children at that time. If a parent drops a child off to school in the morning and the same parent picks that child up from school, then all of the hours in school will be credited to that parent (the theory being that that is the parent who is on call if the school were to report that the child was sick and needed to be picked up). More controversially, if a child is dropped off at school by one parent and then picked up at the end of the day by the other parent, the courts, for example in the case linked to above, have said that the school day should be credited to the “custodial parent.” Since what the court means by saying “custodial parent” in that way is – the parent who has the kids in his or her care most of the time – that seems, to me, like it runs the risk of putting the cart before the horse. If you assume that one parent is the parent who has the kids the most and then check that assumption by counting hours in a way that credits school hours to that parent, you are very likely to find that your original assumption was correct. It is possible that if you started with the opposite assumption, though, you might get the opposite result.

So what lessons should couples take from all this? If you are creating a parenting schedule (a settlement about custody and access issues), it would be wise to consider the issue of who will come and get the child if he or she has to be picked up from school? In my view, that is not only a useful agreement to have, it is also the best test for who is caring for the children during the school day. An answer to that question will also help prevent a difficult argument about counting time to determine the 40% threshold for child support.

What Should I Know About Supervised Access?


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One of the toughest issues in family law is how to deal with a case where one parent alleges that the children are not safe with the other parent. I see those allegations frequently in my cases. When that allegation is made there are two issues that then arise. 1) is it true, or at least is there enough of a risk that it is true, that the child or children will not be safe with a parent and 2) if it is true what can be done to make sure the children are safe. The answer to the second question is usually some form of supervised access.

If you think you might be in one of these cases, you absolutely need to get legal advice right away. Even just a consultation with a lawyer is far better than trying to navigate these issues totally on your own.

Here are some issues that you might want to consider and discuss with your lawyer:

Threshold Issues:

  1. What is the concern that is leading to this allegation?
  2. What tests can be done or information can be provided to either verify or disprove the allegation? Can, for example, drug testing be done? Are there third parties such as doctors, teachers, friends or neighbours who might be useful witnesses?

If you are the one who is alleging that the children are not safe, you are likely going to want to gather as much corroborating evidence as possible as quickly as possible. Your simply saying that the other parent is not safe will probably not be enough. If it is at all possible, you are going to want to have an affidavit from at least one other person and hopefully more than that. Consider whether you have emails or pictures providing corroboration. Consider whether there is medical evidence or police notes or some kind of official record of that kind that can be used. If the allegation is being made against you, consider whether that allegation can easily be disproved by providing some kind of medical test. Consider whether you have witnesses who can prove that a specific allegation is false or at least provide testimony that they don’t believe those allegations to be true and that they would personally trust you with their children. Consider whether you have helpful emails or text messages or pictures.

What kind of supervision:

If supervision is going to be needed, you will want to think about what that should look like. At the most extreme end, the province runs supervised centres that could be used. It is also possible to hire a private professional supervisor. A step down from that would be to have a friend or family member supervise. A step down from that, or in combination, would be to have access occur in a public place. Some people us a library or a McDonalds Playland or go somewhere like the ROM or the Aquarium. The type of concern is going to help dictate the specific solution that makes sense.

Again, if you fall into this kind of case you need to move very quickly to gather information and put something in place. You also need to move very quickly to get legal advice.