Social Work Unit
Custody and Access Assessments
What is a custody and access assessment?
It is an investigation ordered by a judge of the Family Law Division of the Court of Queen's Bench. The purpose of the assessment is to help the judge decide the best parenting arrangements for children whose parents cannot agree on custody and access.
The assessment is conducted by a qualified social worker. The social worker does not work for either parent. The social worker is concerned with the best interests of the child.
Why is an assessment ordered?
If parents are unable to agree on parenting arrangements by themselves or through negotiation and mediation between lawyers, they may go to court to have it decided.
Parents living apart or separating may be unable to agree on who should have custody of their children, or on the degree of contact the children should have with each parent. They may differ in their belief as to what is best for the child. Or, they may be unable to agree because they are angry with each other.
An assessment may be ordered if it is not clear what the custody or access arrangements should be.
When is an assessment ordered?
At some time before a trial takes place, the parents and their lawyers must meet with a judge. The judge will try to help them come to an agreement without going to trial. This meeting is called a settlement pre-trial conference.
At this meeting, the judge may order a custody or access assessment. This order may also be made prior to the pre-trial conference if both parents request it. If just one parent wants the assessment done, an application can be made to expedite the holding of the pre-trial conference to decide on the need for the assessment.
What is the purpose of an assessment?
There are two purposes:
What is the procedure?
1. The judge decides what information is needed and orders the assessment.
The judge requests an objective assessment of the needs of the children and each parent's ability to meet those needs. Instructions are given to the assessor concerning the matters at issue in either custody, access or both.
2. The assessment takes place.
The social worker may:
If an agreement is reached, the parents should inform the social worker as soon as possible because the assessment can be stopped and a trial will not be needed. During the assessment, the social worker may determine that mediation regarding custody and access is an option. If the mediator, the parents and the lawyers are in agreement with mediation, it is offered at no cost to the parties.
3. A report is made.
If an agreement is not reached and/or mediation is not an option, the social worker will complete the assessment and prepare a report of his or her findings and recommendations. The report is provided to the parents and their lawyers and is filed with the court.
4. Using the report.
Parents should review the report with their lawyers. It is hoped that they will then be able to negotiate a settlement on custody and access arrangements. If not, they may go back to the judge who made the assessment order and the judge will try to help them reach an agreement.
5. A trial may be necessary.
If the parents cannot reach an agreement, a trial may occur. The assessment may be used and the social worker may be called as a witness.