When separating spouses or guardianship applicants have tried and failed to reach agreement on the care of their children, they may choose to proceed to court. In some instances, the judge may order Family Conciliation Services to conduct an assessment and write a report with recommendations on how the needs of the children may best be met.
A court-ordered assessment is a process in which a professional counsellor spends time with you, the other adult, and the children in order to write a report to help the judge make decisions that are good for your family. The assessment helps determine the best possible plan for the care of the children under the circumstances. The purpose of the assessment is not to lay blame, nor to determine who is a "good" parent. In most cases, both parents are good parents, who want what is best for their children, but cannot agree on where the children should live, how much time they should spend with each parent, and how the continuing responsibilities of the parents should be shared. In fact, the report can help your family by providing a professional, objective opinion on the issues that you are trying to sort out. Many families find they can use the report to reach an agreement without returning to court.
Counsellors at Family Conciliation Services are trained professionals who will examine the concerns and plans of the parents, while focusing on the needs and best interests of the children. The counsellor will have a number of office interviews and home visits, observing the children with both parents. The counsellor will also talk to other people involved with the family, such as teachers, counsellors, doctors, day care workers. You may be asked to sign an information release form.
Children should be told in simple, direct terms that the judge has been asked to decide on the best living arrangement for the children and how they will share time with each parent. The counsellor 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 to the counsellor. 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.
A report is written and submitted to the court. Copies are given to the lawyers. Your lawyer will go over the report with you. You may still choose to resolve the matter by agreement, using the report as a guideline. If the case goes to trial, the report may be submitted 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." You may disagree with the report, and the counsellor may be asked to appear in court to explain his/her opinions. The final decision rests with the judge.
A questionnaire will be sent out to you. It is important that it be filled out as fully as possible.
Let your counsellor at Family Conciliation Services know if you change your address or telephone number.
Notify us if you reach a settlement.
If you have any questions, call your counsellor. You will be assigned a counsellor when one is available to complete your assessment. If you have questions about the process before you are assigned a counsellor, please contact 945-7236 and a receptionist will help direct you.