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is a child custody and access assessment and what’s involved?
child custody and access assessment is used by the Court to help determine
the best interests of the child. The assessment addresses the needs and
interest of the child and seeks to determine what parenting arrangement
can best meet those needs.
They parties may agree on an independent assessor or the Court may refer the matter to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer for an assessment under their auspices. In choosing an independent assessor, the parties have the opportunity to review the professional background of respective assessors and choose one whose experience and credentials are most relevant to address issues of concern. In going through the Office of The Children’s Lawyer the parties have no input as to the assessor chosen.
the heart of every child custody and access assessment is information
gathering. Information is obtained from a variety of sources and often
includes a review of court records pertaining to the current action,
criminal reference checks on parents and at times new partners, school
reports, previous assessments, medical reports and Children’s Aid
addition to the gathering of reports, the assessor will interview the
parents and the children in various combinations as required. Where a
parent has a new partner, spouse or girl/boy-friend, they will likely be
included in the interview process. At times other family friends,
employers, colleagues, teachers, professionals and extended family members
can be included if deemed necessary by the assessor. Interviews may take
place in the parent’s home or the assessor’s office.
completion of the information gathering including reviewing all written
materials, interviews and observations, the assessor prepares a detailed
report that sets out recommendations for parenting arrangements to meet
the best interests of the child. The recommendations generally specify a
parenting plan that can include who has primary responsibility for
decisions affecting the child’s life, living/care arrangements and
school arrangements and may also include recommendations for parents
and/or child to address gaps or concerns related to parenting abilities.
the assessment process ends with a disclosure meeting whereby the assessor
meets with the parents to review the report and recommendations. This
meeting may also include the parents’ lawyers. The purpose of the
meeting is to make sure that information is correct and that the parents
and lawyers understand the report and recommendations. Some custody and
access disputes are settled at this point. The assessor may be
instrumental to this end during the disclosure meeting.
are advised to prepare well in advance whether they have participated in
choosing the assessor or whether the assessor is appointed through the
Office of the Children’s Lawyer.
should ask to view the resume of the assessor. They should ask about the
process the assessor will use and what sources of information they will
include. They should determine in advance what special training they might
have had to deal with particular concerns. If the child has developmental
issues, if the are concerns related to violence between family members, if
there are concerns of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, if there are
concerns related to alcohol or substance abuse or criminal behaviour,
etc., the parent should find out if the assessor is trained or qualified
to address such issues.
underway and at every step throughout the assessment process, parents have
the right to ask the assessor why, what and how they are choosing to do as
they do. If at any point along the way a concern arises about the
assessor, their qualifications or the assessment process, this should be
addressed with the assessor and if necessary, the parent should bring
their concern to their lawyer’s attention. A good assessor will welcome
your questions and should be able to explain the rationale for their
the assessment, parents are advised to be honest and open. A
well-qualified assessor will likely determine when a parent is not open
and honest and this can further compound any concern the assessor may have
about a parent.
Parents involved in child custody and access disputes are often under the most duress they have ever experienced. Living through the custody and access assessment process can feel like a lifetime. Choosing your assessor wisely or identifying any concerns up front with an assessor who has been appointed can help increase a parent’s comfort that the end will result in a set of recommendations that truly are in the best interest of their child.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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