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Backdoor Assessments and Counselling
The Middle Of Custody and Access Disputes
separations can be messy matters. When parents see their lawyers, they learn
that the one who leaves the home first, in the absence of a separation
agreement, forfeits legal custody (decision making) to the parent who remains
with the children, pending a settlement on the matter. As per the Children’s
Law Reform Act (Ontario, Canada), governing custody and access issues between
the parents of a child live separate and apart and the child lives with one of
them with the consent, implied consent or acquiescence of the other of them, the
right of the other to exercise the entitlement of custody and the incidents of
custody, but not the entitlement to access, is suspended until a separation
agreement or order otherwise provides. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 20 (4).
view of this statute, some parents trick the other parent into leaving the home
under the ruse of a trial separation. Once having learned of the fallout from
such action, the parent who leaves feels undermined with respect to their
relationship and parental authority with their children. From there, the
conflict between the parents escalates and the children, subject to parental
hostilities, surface with problems in their own right, consequent to the
stressors of the situation.
is at this stage the outraged parent seeks help, particularly trying to marshal
support for the legal battle. Many times these parents seek a one-sided
assessment, asking the assessor to only meet with them or perhaps them and
children, but certainly not to include the other parent.
assessments have very little weight in family law matters. Further, custody and
access assessment Standards of Practice from psychiatry, psychology and social
work prohibit one-sided assessments and are grounds for disciplinary action
through respective colleges.
other strategy for gaining a one-sided assessment is to approach the family
physician or community mental health clinic or even child protection agency (CAS)
and ask for help or counselling for a child in distress.
it may be self-evident that the child is in actual distress, careful telephone
screening reveals that the distress is likely owing to an unresolved custody and
access dispute and that what is being sought is a “backdoor” assessment.
situations are well known to custody and access assessors/counsellors who will
quickly realize the larger issues at play. The experienced assessor/counsellor
will be aware that the parent calling may not even have legal authority to
request counselling on behalf of the child. In view of the larger issues at
play, the experienced assessor/counsellor, acting with a view to the statutes
and code of ethics in such matters, will deny meeting with the parent and/or
child. To meet with the parent and/or child on a one-sided basis actually serves
to inflame matters further when the other parent learns of the situation and
drags the child next to their assessor/counsellor to redress the concern for
imbalance in the dispute. In other words, both parents drag the kid off to
separate counsellors, the fight escalates and the child is at greater risk of
exposure to parental hostility and distress – let alone conflicting
called for a one-sided assessment or counselling for children between separated
parents in dispute, the experienced assessor/counsellor will likely advise the
parent of the issues involved and would be prepared to work on child related
matters with the foreknowledge, consent and participation of the other parent
and at times, subject to their lawyers’ approval.
Unfortunately to help children in distress consequent to custody and access disputes, the solution can be complex. Referral sources are advised to be mindful of these tactics and issues so matters are not inadvertently made worse. These matters take considerable expertise to manage and require considerable patience to see through appropriately.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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