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Custody Access Assessments FAQ

Assessments are often used in contested custody or access matters. Knowing more about the assessment process reduces a client’s fear of the assessment and ensures that the client participates well in the process.

What is the purpose of an assessment?
The purpose of a custody/access assessment is to obtain a mental health professional’s observations about the family situation and that professional’s recommendation as to the best custody/access arrangements. As choosing between a mother and father can be very difficult the neutral assessor is extremely helpful in deciding what is in the best interest if the children. The assessor is a psychiatrist or a PhD. psychologist and trained to conduct custody/access assessments. There are also social workers and psychologists who help in the assessment. The assessment is not therapy or mediation. Most assessors will explore the possibility of mediation if the case is appropriate for it. There are also some aspects of therapy in the process but the prime purposes are not mediation or therapy.

Are the Parties and the Court bound by the recommendations?
No, the parties may still settle the dispute using some or none of the recommendations. Though judges usually rely heavily on the recommendations of the assessor they are not bound to do so. A judge might rely on some of the findings of the assessor but because of other evidence presented will order a different resolution than that recommended by the assessor.

What happens in an assessment?
Though there may be some variability in the assessment process at the discretion of the assessor, there is a general procedure that is carried out.

The assessor will interview the parties and the children individually and then together. The assessor will explore each party’s background as well as the present problems. The assessor will then usually have a member of his or her staff conduct certain psychological tests appropriate for custody/access disputes. The assessor or his or her staff will interview collateral people such as the new girlfriends and boyfriends, as well as teachers, friends and mental health professionals who have been involved in the case, if necessary. Sometimes there is a home study whereby the assessor or a member of his or her staff visit the parties and the children in the home setting. There will then be additional interviews before writing the final report. After the report is written there may be a follow up report if one of the lawyers involved asks for clarification of certain issues.

How should the client behave in an assessment?
The client should act naturally. The client should raise issues of concern but not dwell on the other spouse’s faults. The client should admit his or her own shortcomings. These shortcomings will be raised by the opposing spouse so it is best to deal with them directly.

What is the Lawyer's role in the Assessment?
The lawyer will first find the appropriate assessor for the case based on the nature of the dispute and the time frame required. The lawyer must prepare and send the assessor the background material. This will include the affidavits used in the case and a list of the issues to be discussed and resolved. The lawyer will ensure that after consulting with the client that all the issues had been discussed and the appropriate persons interviewed. Once the report is completed the lawyer might raise questions that would lead to a follow up report to clarify the initial report.

Will other proceedings take place while the assessment is being conducted?
It is not a good idea to be engaged in court motions while an assessment is taking place. It is also not the practice of the Official Guardian to have the children interviewed by a lawyer from their office at the same time there is an ongoing assessment.

Who schedules the appointments and how is payment made?
Once the parties and the lawyers agree about whom is doing the assessment the client takes over. He or she makes the appointments and arranges to pay the assessor.

What if the client refuses to attend at the assessment or is uncooperative?
The Children’s Law Reform Act, which gives a court the authority to order an assessment, also states that where a person refuses to attend or undergo an assessment ” the court may draw such inferences in respect of the ability and willingness of any person to satisfy the needs of the child as the court considers appropriate. ” It is therefore quite advisable to participate fully in an assessment.