WHAT IS A CUSTODY ASSESSMENT?
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.
CONTRACTING WITH THE PARTIES
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 INITIAL INTERVIEW
The aim of the interview is to:
and sign documents for release of information
the purpose of the assessment
the assessor’s role and procedure (clinical interview
process and explanation of test batteries)
the list of collateral sources and a parenting plan
the evaluation contents, including limits of confidentiality
and completion time
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
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
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
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.