Quick Escape

First Choice Program

What is First Choice?

First Choice is a brief, confidential evaluation service. It provides an alternative way to address child custody and access disputes other than through the more formal court-ordered assessment. The service is designed to help separating parents resolve parenting issues in a more timely manner and provide recommendations for child-focused planning.

Who can use First Choice?

Most often, parents participate in First Choice, but it is also available to others who have child custody and access issues (e.g. other family members such as grandparents). Family lawyers involved are encouraged to attend the sessions.

How do I access First Choice?

Only the Family Court judge can refer parents or other family members to First Choice. Lawyers and parents sign an agreement to keep the process confidential from the court proceeding. You will be contacted by a member of the First Choice team within two weeks of receiving the court referral.

What is the difference between a Court-Ordered Assessment and First Choice?

When separating spouses or guardianship applicants have tried and failed to reach an agreement on the care of their children, they may proceed to court, A judge can order a Court-Ordered Assessment be done by Family Conciliation Services, or may refer the parties to its First Choice service, which is an alternative way to resolve custody/access issues and parenting concerns outside of court.
The formal assessment for the court is done by a counsellor, who spends time with each family member, including the children, The counsellor will also attend the home and may contact others who are related or who work with the family in order to gather information that will be helpful to the court. After the interviews and assessment the counsellor writes a report recommending to the court what is in the best interests of the children. This report is submitted to the court to help in the determination of custody and access arrangements and copies are given to the lawyers involved in case. The Court Ordered Assessment is not a confidential process.
First Choice offers an alternative way to confidentially resolve custody and access issues outside of court system. The disputing parties are able to briefly consult with a male and a female counselling team to determine the possibility of parental agreement that reflects the best interests of their children, as well as to give them an idea of what a possible outcome might be if they choose to go to court. Parents may negotiate parenting agreements based on the team recommendations and a short summary report is prepared by the team. The summary report is considered confidential and cannot be used if the case proceeds to court.

What happens at First Choice?

The first step involves the First Choice team conducting separate intake interviews with each parent, typically by phone. This is followed by an approximately three-hour First Choice assessment session with both parents, where each parent puts forward their proposed plans for the children and allows time for their responses to each other plans. The team is actively involved in asking questions throughout the session to ensure that the information is understood. The parents legal counsel may also be present to offer support to their clients. The team may interview the children or other professionals involved with the family regarding what would serve the children best interests. The team provides feedback, and may also provide an opinion as to whether parents should be referred back to court for a traditional assessment. Parents may wish to negotiate parenting plans with each other based on the team recommendations, and with the help of their lawyers. This would take place in a follow-up session. A short summary report is prepared by the team following all sessions and is sent to both parents and their lawyers, but not to the court.

What happens when the sessions are finished?

In addition to First Choice providing follow-up sessions for parents to help them with their parenting plans, the team often makes referrals to other services such as mediation and community-based counselling. Parents may return to court if the matter is still unresolved.

For more information contact:

Family Conciliation Services Winnipeg Family Conciliation Services Brandon
2nd Floor, 379 Broadway 340 9th Street
Winnipeg, MB R3C 0T9 Brandon, MB R7A 6C2
Phone: 204-945-7236 Phone: 204-726-6336
Toll free: 1-800-282-8069 ext. 7236 Toll free: 1-800-230-1885