Quick Escape

Assessments and Brief Consultations

When separating parents or guardianship applicants have tried and been unable to reach agreement on the care of their children, they may choose to proceed to court. Assessments and Brief Consultations can help a judge make a decision on issues related to parenting arrangements.

Court Ordered Assessments are only available by Order of a Judge or Master under section 49(1) of The Court of Queen’s Bench Act or section 20.4(1) of Provincial Court Act. The courts follow legislation and guidelines in appointing evaluators and have the ability to order costs to impacted parties. Family Resolution Service’s Family Evaluators are appointed by the Minister of Justice to complete Court Ordered Assessments and are considered the Court’s witness.

What are Court Ordered Assessments?

Court Ordered Assessments help the court make decisions on how the needs of the children may best be met. The assessment provides impartial, well-considered information and recommendations based on a thorough assessment of the family dynamics and the children’s needs, by a qualified social services professional appointed as a Family Evaluator. The report may also assist the family and lawyers to come to an agreement as an alternative to court action

A Family Evaluator will interview and observe the parents/guardians and the children, and may also speak to others, such as the child’s day care provider or teachers. The Family Evaluator writes a report with recommendations, and gives it to the court and the lawyer(s) representing the party. If a party is a Self Represented Litigant, they will receive a copy of the report. If there is still no agreement, and there is a trial, each party has the right to ask that the Family Evaluator come to the trial and to ask the Family Evaluator questions (cross-examine) about the report.

What happens during a Court Ordered Assessment?

Family Resolution Service’s Family Evaluators are trained professionals who will examine the concerns and plans of the parents/guardians, while focusing on the needs and best interests of the children.

A Court Ordered Assessment may include some or all of the following:

✓   Signature of Release of Confidential Information forms.

✓   Office, telephone or virtual meeting with each parent/guardian

✓   Joint interview with both parents in some situations.

✓   Home visit at each parent /guardian’s residence, while caring for the child.

✓   Interview with child.

✓   Telephone interview with other supports, resource professionals and references for each parent/guardian.

✓   Review of any relevant correspondence and reports.

✓   Child Abuse and Criminal Records checks.

✓   Additional interviews or contacts as required i.e. stepparents or grandparents providing care.

Reports generally include:

✓   A brief summary of information the Family Evaluator considers relevant to the matters in dispute.

✓   An assessment of each parent/guardian’s appropriateness for any proposed parenting time, including decision making responsibilities (custody) or parenting time (access)

✓   The wishes of children, if volunteered by them.

✓   An assessment of the proposed parenting plans, including decision-making responsibilities (custody), parenting time or contact (access) to ensure it is in the best interests of the children.

✓   A report upon any particular matter referred by a Judge or Master.

Reports make recommendations in the child’s best interests as described in the law. Some of the factors considered include, but are not limited to:

✓   The child’s needs, given the child’s age and stage of development, such as the child’s need for stability.

✓   The nature and strength of the child’s relationship with each spouse, siblings, grandparents and other important persons.

✓   Each spouse’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other spouse

✓   Past history of the child’s care by parent(s) prior to separation. This could also include others who have cared for the child, such as other family members.

✓   The child’s views and preferences

✓   The child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage, including Indigenous upbringing and heritage

✓   Current and future plans to care for the child

✓   The ability and willingness of each person in respect of whom the order would apply to care for and meet the needs of the child

✓   The ability and willingness of each person in respect of whom the order would apply to communicate and cooperate with each other to ensure the best needs of the child

✓   Any family violence

✓   Any civil or criminal proceeding, order, condition, or measure that is relevant to the safety, security and well-being of the child

Existing protection, prevention or restraining orders or potential for verbal/physical aggression or violence should be identified to the Family Evaluator (only reports or documents about abuse or neglect that the Family Evaluator has access to will be reviewed before a child is interviewed). Those experiencing or with a history of intimate partner violence or family violence may be referred to an additional Family Guide with expertise in domestic violence to support safety planning.

What Happens When The Assessment Is Complete?

A report is written and submitted to the court. The report is placed on to a specific court file, which is confidential. COARS contain very private information about the parties and their children and should not be shared.

The Family Resolution Service’s Family Evaluator is obligated to report all relevant information. Parents and other persons, such as new partners, adult children, and step children need to know that concerns they bring up will be discussed with the other parent and that a written report will go to the court and to the attorneys. If you have a lawyer, they will go over the report with you.

You may still choose to resolve the matter by agreement outside of court, using the report as a guideline. If the case goes to trial, the report will be available to the court as one piece of evidence. While the report is an important part of all the evidence that the court will consider in a trial, it is not the "last word." Family Resolution Service’s Family Evaluator may be asked to appear in court to explain their opinions. The final decision rests with the judge.

What should I tell my children?

Children should be told in simple, direct terms that a judge has been asked to decide on the best living arrangement for the children and how they will spend time with each parent. The Family Resolution Service’s Family Evaluator will be helping the judge by getting to know the children and their parents and writing a report for the judge. It is very important for parents to avoid blaming each other or telling the children what to say. Children should be told that they will not be asked to choose between their parents, although they will be given an opportunity to express their feelings and opinions. Children do not usually appear in court.

What are Private Assessments?

Private assessments may be court ordered by a judge or master, or requested by the parents or guardians. If requested by the parents, the parents must hire a private assessor at their own expense. A private assessor needs to have the agreement, cooperation and participation of both parents. It is recommended that parents and their lawyers perform their due diligence and ensure that the individual they are hiring to do the assessment has the necessary training, expertise and experience to perform the task. The parents and their lawyers should ask about the person’s background, review their qualifications and satisfy themselves that the proposed assessor is qualified. In these cases, the report produced by the assessor is the property of the parents, who can chose to release it or not.

What is a Brief Consultation?

A Brief Consultation report is requested by the court when the court wants a brief and timely consultation with parents, guardians and children regarding a specific parenting issue. Brief Consultations are intended to be brief and focused on “the voice of the child” and will not follow the procedures outlined for traditional family assessments.

The Family Resolution Service’s Family Evaluators conduct Brief Consultations. They are highly skilled social service professionals with numerous years of training and are experienced in mediation and assessment. The Consultation includes:

  • Hearing the wishes of children ages 11-17 years regarding parenting arrangements
  • Parenting options including how to communicate with each other after separation.
  • What other services might benefit the family (i.e. counselling, further assessment)

A Brief Consultation report is intended to:

  • Offer older children (ages 11-17 years) an opportunity to share wishes or concerns
  • Facilitate an earlier resolution of parenting arrangements/ issues
  • Avoid the need for longer traditional assessments

What happens during the Brief Consultation?

A Family Evaluator will contact the family to arrange meetings with various family members. The initial meeting may take place virtually or in person at a Family Resolution Service office. Generally, the Family Evaluator will meet once with each parent, and then once with each child, or with the children depending on the circumstances.

Existing protection, prevention or restraining orders or potential for verbal/physical aggression or violence should be identified to the Family Evaluator (only reports or documents about abuse or neglect that the Family Evaluator has access to will be reviewed before a child is interviewed). Those experiencing or with a history of intimate partner violence or family violence may be referred to an additional Family Guide with expertise in domestic violence to support safety planning.

The Family Evaluator conducting the Brief Consultation will prepare a written report, which will be shared with the court and each parent’s lawyer. The report will focus on the concerns and wishes of the children, and their best interests. It may also offer suggestions for parenting plans or time-sharing, specific issues of concern like school of choice, and other supports such as counseling.

Who can I talk to if I have a question?

If the court has ordered a Court Ordered Assessment or a Brief Consultation and you have questions, you can contact the Family Resolution Service by emailing GetGuidance@gov.mb.ca or by calling 204-945-2313 (Winnipeg) or 1-844-808-2313 (toll-free).