Comprehensive bilateral custody/access assessments provide information and recommendations about the family to assist Judges in reaching a decision that will be in the best interests of the child. The following procedures are designed to provide an objective assessment of the “fit” between parents and child – the balance between each parent’s functional abilities and the individual needs of the child. This determination is made through information gathered from many sources and by a variety of methods in different situations. The data is limited to a description of the current functioning of parent and child. Data is gathered from clinical interviews, direct observation of parent-child interaction, results of standardized psychological tests, collateral interviews and review of court documents. A custody assessment is not like an assessment for therapy and should meet the requirements for expert witness testimony. Assessors use the most current state-of-the-art research in their recommendations.


The agreement by the parents or court order for a child custody/access assessment must be established prior to the evaluation. In this contract, the purpose and method of the assessment, as well as provisions for payments of services are delineated. This is usually called a Retainer Agreement.


The aim of the interview is to:
Clarify and sign documents for release of information
Clarify the purpose of the assessment
Clarify the assessor’s role and procedure (clinical interview process and explanation of test batteries)
Obtain the list of collateral sources and a parenting plan
Clarify the evaluation contents, including limits of confidentiality and completion time
Establish an assessment schedule.


The parent evaluations are conducted individually over several sessions in which data is collected on the parent’s family history, the relationship with former spouse or new partner, concerns regarding custody and visitation issues, and practical concerns regarding the child. Objective psychological tests related to personality and parenting are administered. Clinical interviews and standardized psychological testing form the basis of the parent evaluation.


The goal of the evaluation is to obtain information regarding the child’s developmental needs, perceptions of the child, and the child’s attachment to each parent. This is accomplished through clinical interviews and
administration of standardized age-appropriate psychological assessment techniques. The child will also be observed interacting with each parent (and other caretakers), according to the assessment schedule.


The home visit, which may be part of the assessment process, offers an on-site perspective of the home environment and gives an opportunity for observation of the child in a more natural setting. The home visit
is arranged according to the assessment schedule. The structured observational format in each home visit requires at least one hour. Specific activities carried out by each parent and child provide information about parental competencies and parent-child interaction.


Collateral data about both parents and child are collected from other sources that may include: teachers, therapists, physicians, coworkers, neighbours, significant others, coaches, or others who may interact with the parent or child in a professional or an informal manner.


This report is intended to give the Court and legal counsel information about how the child’s needs can best be addressed through a parenting plan. Criteria in making custody/access recommendations are based on
psychological and practical factors.

Why is a child custody/access assessment needed?

A comprehensive bilateral child custody/access assessment is needed when parents of the children are not able to resolve the dispute concerning a parenting arrangement through other conflict-resolution formats (for example, mediation). In Alberta it is ordered in Queen’s Bench by a Judge under Rules of Court, 218.1 or S.32 of the Provincial Court Act.

Who is involved in a child custody/access assessment?

Bilateral child custody/access assessments are carried out at the direction of either the court or legal counsel. Many times it is ordered by the Judge, whereby the assessor is the Court’s witness. In the majority of cases, the biological parents and their children are the primary subjects of the assessment. In specific cases, other significant adults may also be included.