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Custody and Access Assessments
One of the challenges
that faces people going through a divorce is settling a parenting plan.
When parents cannot agree, their lawyers may suggest a child custody and access
assessment. The goal of an
assessment is to provide unbiased recommendations to the courts.
rely heavily on independent assessments to determine custody and access
outcomes. Courts also rely heavily on the stated preference of children
older than 12-years-of-age. This is reflected in the research of Kunin,
Ebbesen, and Konecni
1 who found that only
two factors directly affect judges; child preference and the
recommendations of the evaluator.
what if you think the assessment is wrong?
Custody and access
assessments can be challenged. “Assessment critiques” evaluate the
reliability of the assessment, looking for procedural and factual errors.
The first step is to examine the procedures used in the assessment
against current "Standards of Practice" as outlined by various
professional bodies (e.g., American Psychological Association).
Next, factual data is checked against the various sources of
information. The critique also seeks to determine if the recommendations
make sense, both in terms of the data reported and in terms of current
social science research. There
needs to be a clear and obvious connection between data and
As part of the
critique process, it may be important to review an assessor’s education
to determine if they possess the requisite knowledge to address certain
issues such as sexual abuse, psychiatric disorders, parental alienation
and so on.
an assessor’s theoretical orientation may not be appropriate to
understanding or assessing certain matters.
For instance, a behavioural approach may discuss the antecedents
and consequences of violence in a conjugal relationship, but this
theoretical orientation falls far short on understanding the power
imbalances and long-term implications that fear, intimidation and concern
of reprisal have in developing a satisfactory access regime.
Courts do accept the input of assessment critiques, there are challenges
to their integrity:
There are no particular standards of practice for assessment
They can in no way be presented as an alternate assessment.
The person providing the critique may be perceived as a
o If additional materials are provided for the purpose of the critique, the choice of
materials may be subject to the bias of the referring lawyer.
o A critique is often requested unbeknownst to the other side and when disclosed,
concerns of dubious practices can arise thus increasing tension between counsel
is therefore important that a person of recognized competence provide the
assessment critique. Further, the person providing the critique must be
able to define their criteria or approach for conducting the critique.
Lawyers are advised to provide all documentation requested by the person
providing the critique so issues of bias can be minimized if under
like assessments carry risks. It just may be that the critique supports
the recommendations of the assessment even if procedural or factual errors
are found. Alternately, a critique may support the procedures deployed in
the assessment, but on the basis of the data, suggest other hypotheses and
recommendations for consideration.
you feel your custody/assessment is flawed and draws poor conclusions or
recommendations consider an assessment critique. Be certain the person
providing the critique is credible and be prepared if the recommendations
are indeed supported.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report. His opinion helps resolve child custody and access matters.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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1Kunin, C.C., Ebbesen, E.B., Konecni, V.J. (1992). An archival study of decision-making in child custody disputes, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 48:564-73.
20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org