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High Heat, the Assessment and then Court…
the heat of some child custody and access disputes, one-sided accounts of the
situation can be convincing. Both parents have their view and are apt to present
the issues more with their own interest at heart.
the “interest” is supposedly the children, high emotions may reign and hence
very personal and emotionally charged issues get confused with those of the
children. Parents may talk to anyone who will listen, provide their personal
account and gather allies. Lawyers may inflame the situation by taking as
gospel, one-sided accounts either from their client, friends and family and even
other professionals who may have been inducted first by the client’s one-sided
some of these cases both parents interpret all behaviour of the other
negatively. Harmless behaviour may be reframed as inappropriate or egregious or
outright abusive. Allegations may intensify with highly charged language taking
precedence over a determination of actual behaviour. By-standers can be overcome
with the intensity of a parent’s delivery of information. They line up in a
high stakes tug-of-war, each convinced of the righteousness of their position.
may be the starting point for the custody and access assessment. Even the choice
of assessor may be hotly debated but finally the assessor does enter this highly
charged, polarized conflict.
task of the assessor is to step back from the position of either party as
gospel. The assessment process requires a meta-view with the goal of determining
custody and access recommendations. Data is gathered from both sides. The
process includes a review of the legal brief; the file containing the account,
court documents, exhibits and affidavits regarding the dispute. The assessor may
find an “affidavit war”. In an affidavit war, both parents present with a
stable of friends, family or employers each of whom supports the position of the
respective parent while undermining that of the other. The assessor may rely
solely upon the affidavit material or selectively interview some persons. It is
sometimes the case in such assessments that the affidavits seem to cancel each
other out, rendering the content less useful than their indication of the degree
of conflict and positioning they represent. Hence the utility of affidavits in a
custody and access assessment may be as much the indication of how far afield
the dispute has run as the information they purport to provide.
and in such cases, there can be a reliance on the input of various
professionals, none of whom may actually have a well-rounded view of the dispute
and parties. Each parent may trot out their professional to support or undermine
respective issues. Again, the role of the assessor is to take a meta-view even
with regard to the input of other professionals. Of concern is where a third
party professional offers more than behavioral descriptions of their own
observations. The third party professional may stray to offer opinion or
inferences on the case in the absence of having met and assessed both parties.
As such, their opinion may be disqualified as based upon a one-sided account.
and in the midst of a contentious situation, the assessor renders an opinion and
recommendations. In some cases, this provides the basis of a settlement. In
other cases this is just a renewed starting ground for more conflict as one side
takes offence to the opinion and recommendations of the assessor. If that
happens and a settlement is not achieved, then off to court the dispute goes. In
the new round of conflict, the assessor may be included as a target when the
dissatisfied party now looks to undermine the assessor so as to still advance
in such highly charged cases can quickly appear personal. However, the assessor
stands distanced from the fray. If court is required, then that too shall be
part of the process and the assessor remains available to the court’s scrutiny
and tests therein.
disputes go all the way. Family in ruins, pity the children. The will of the Court
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org