When parents are unable to agree about parenting arrangements, and/or when there are questions regarding the parenting capacity of one or both parents, an assessment may be necessary. Parents can mutually agree to participate in a Parenting Plan assessment, or the court may order an assessment. The purpose is to evaluate the needs of the children and each parent’s respective ability to meet those needs. The assessment report may assist the court in making an order regarding parenting arrangements for children, or it may assist the parents in reaching an agreement.
The following steps are usually involved in conducting an assessment; however, the procedure may vary based on the specific needs of each client:
In some cases, the assessor may refer clients for a consultation regarding a specific issue, such as when the questions being raised involve possible substance abuse and/or significant mental health concerns involving one or both parents, or specific medical/psychological conditions involving a parent or child.
The results of any consultation are considered in the preparation of the assessment report. A request for consultation is made only in exceptional circumstances where, in the opinion of the assessor, additional information is necessary for a full understanding of the needs of the children and the abilities of the parents to meet those needs.
Parenting Plan assessors are mental health professionals (e.g. social workers, psychologists), who have expertise in assessment procedures, child and adult mental health issues, child and adult divorce issues, child development as well as being knowledgeable regarding the applicable law and court procedures. Assessors typically follow established professional standards and guidelines, such as those set by their professional association.
Cases vary in complexity, the number of interviews and contact with other professionals involved with the family, and disbursement costs, which might include, but are not limited to, travel, photocopying, costs for obtaining other professional reports (ie. medical reports). On average, assessments require 30-40 hours, paid at the assessor’s hourly rate. Parents are required to provide a retainer in advance. Parents usually share the cost of the assessment based on a cost-sharing formula determined by the parents or by the court.
The assessor provides a report of the findings and recommendations to the parents’ lawyers and, if relevant, to the court. Many parents, upon consultation with their lawyers, come to an agreement after receiving the assessor’s report. Where an agreement is not possible, the court will make an order. The assessor’s report may be submitted as evidence and the assessor may be required to testify.