What Is a Child Custody and Access Assessment and What’s Involved?
What Is a Child Custody and Access Assessment and What’s
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW
A 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
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.
At 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 Society reports.
In 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
After 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.
Usually 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
Parents 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.
Parents 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 behavior, etc., the parent should find out if the
assessor is trained or qualified to address such issues.
Once 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 actions.
Throughout 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
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.
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different judges and may differ substantially in individual situations or
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appropriate professional advice about your particular situation and facts.
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