Parenting assessments have an important role to play in resolving parenting disputes, especially in high conflict family law cases, which can be challenging to resolve without input from a mental health practitioner with specialized knowledge, training and experience. Assessments help to create child-focused parenting arrangements that are tailored to a family’s circumstances.
The purpose of an assessment is to provide information to parents and sometimes to an arbitrator or to the Court to decide the best parenting arrangements for children whose parents cannot agree on parenting time and decision making. Assessments provide informed and independent evidence about the child’s needs and the ability and willingness of each parent to meet those needs.
Parenting assessments are usually completed under Section 30 of the Children's Law Reform Act or on consent of both parents. The assessor’s role is entirely different from a traditional therapist-client relationship. The assessor performs a forensic role and both parents have the opportunity in the court or arbitrative process to challenge the assessor’s findings, opinions and recommendations.
An assessment involves a detailed and thorough investigation of a family's situation through extensive interviews with parents, the child/ren and other significant family members, new partners, caregivers and community contacts, such as the child's school and doctor. Observation of each parent with the child/ren will take place in various settings.
The information collected is used to evaluate the children's relationship with each parent and to make recommendations about parenting time, decision-making responsibility and contact with each parent. The recommendations are made shall always be in the best interests of the child/ren.
Generally the recommendations (parenting plan) and findings of the assessment may provide a basis for settlement of the issues and this is explored with the parents and counsel before writing a comprehensive assessment report. The assessor will usually write a report for the Court, arbitrator or the judge and it is then up to the Court or the arbitrator to determine the weight that will be given to this particular piece of evidence.
Assessments typically take between 20 to 50 hours and may span a three to four month period of time. This may vary from familyto family.