Determining the rights and obligations that parents should have after splitting up can be a highly emotional and contentious process. In some cases, a judge may order an assessment by a professional. These assessments can significantly impact parenting time and decision-making responsibilities (formerly called custody and access), so preparing for them is vital.
Find the right assessor
Assessors have a wide range of training, skills and capabilities. Parties navigating a private assessment can select psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals to conduct the assessment. Further, as we discussed in an article on our site, assessors can be biased.
Thus, when choosing an assessor, it is crucial to keep in mind factors like:
- Mental health issues of the parents
- Religious or cultural beliefs
- Parental lifestyle
- Desired parenting arrangement
Based on these factors, your lawyer can find an assessor who is especially skilled in certain areas. And finding one who has a history and belief system that aligns with you just might work in your favour.
Get yourself and your home ready
Assessors will typically interview parents, partners, the child and others with information relevant to the child. As a parent, you should have any information available related to substance abuse, violence, personal history and special considerations for your child.
Collateral information can also be essential. Assessors can collect medical records, statements from teachers and test results. Having all this information prepared can help the process move more quickly.
Home visits can also be very telling during an assessment, so take some time to prepare your home. During these visits, assessors are typically looking at the interactions between parent and child and noting the home’s safety. They also assess whether the home is a child-friendly environment.
Know what the assessment means
Sometimes in Ontario the Office of the Children’s Lawyer may be called upon to conduct an “investigation and report”. These are somewhat similar to private assessments. The link here gives information about the OCL investigations. These reports, as with private assessment reports, can be tremendously important. While they are not the only factor a judge considers when determining parenting time and decision-making responsibility, they can hold significant weight when prepared properly. The assessments give judges and parents independent insight into what the assessor feels is in your child’s best interests.
Understandably, you may be overwhelmed and nervous about the process. Being prepared can help you feel more confident throughout the assessment. Having an experienced family law lawyer on your team whose business it is to know the assessors, can also be of great advantage.