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Wrong Question: Should separated parents have access to the evaluator’s report?

April 16, 2016

I responded to a chat through an email list-server between child custody and access evaluators/assessors this morning. At issue was providing the written evaluation/assessment report to the parents. It seems that in some jurisdictions, parents do not have access to these reports. The concern regards a parent reading critical comments provided by the child and worry about how the parent would deal with that. Not an unreasonable concern.

I responded as follows:

Interesting question and demonstrates jurisdictional differences.

Here in Ontario parents seem to have access to the report as a matter of course. I have always conducted  business this way.

To add, it is typical here to have a disclosure meeting where the assessor provides a verbal report. This may occur ahead of delivering a written report in the hopes that the verbal report will facilitate settlement. I always read my reports at a 5-way meeting so parents and lawyers heard it out loud as intended to be heard. Then I would be available to answer questions arising. Some lawyers would treat this as an opportunity to test me for cross examination. I certainly advised them not to do so, but to address any minor points of clarification. Thereafter I would remain available if the parents/lawyers wished to engage in settlement discussions and pick my brain in the process.  Almost all of my cases settled in this process. Those that went on to court seemed to do so more on the basis of aggressive lawyering.

In my service contract, I was also clear that if a settlement could be facilitated along the way, I would do so. This is contrary to what many other evaluators would do. However, my view is that it serves the better interests of the child if the parents could settle along the way. So if the parents weren’t far apart or demonstrated some flexibility, I would suggest a disclosure meeting ahead of my writing the report. It saved money and anguish.

I have seen over the years though that parents are getting nastier and some lawyers are getting more aggressive and litigious even while processes like Collaborative Law are  growing. Whereas in the past, parents would thank me for my work, regardless of the outcome, in recent years a disgruntled parent would just as soon lodge a complaint and some of the lawyers were no better – threatening and crying foul if it appeared things were not going their way. The climate in which this work is provided has become more and more toxic and in my mind just no longer serves the intended outcome – some sort of settlement whether achieved jointly or by decree. Now if a settlement is not achieved jointly, it just sets the parents up for another round of battle as the disgruntled parent seeks to right their version of a wrong. So these days evaluations and court are part of the process that perpetuates and escalates conflict.

I no longer participate in court involved activities as a result. Beginning 2015, I re-tooled all of my efforts to peacemaking processes. I can get quite creative around that and find this helpful even with those seemingly intractable cases. Obviously though , we can’t be helpful to everyone whether in peacemaking or litigation.

For a list of my peacemaking services, please see:

I am of the view that if more parents were to engage in peacemaking processes from the very beginning, there would be far less court actions. As I have written elsewhere, an escalation of conflict is inevitable by virtue of combative processes like litigation and  lawyer-assisted negotiation where the lawyers negotiate without the parent present, yet on their behalf. Those processes are ripe for escalating conflict. In lieu I promote mediation and Collaborative Law as well as my many other services.

In the final analysis, whether or not a parent should have access to the evaluator’s report becomes moot when there is no evaluation conducted but rather the parents engage in helpful peaceful settlement processes.

So, should parents have access to the evaluator’s report is simply the wrong question. The better question is which peacemaking process should we engage in to facilitate our separation? With that the other issues evaporate.

Know someone who might benefit from this information? Please scroll down and share this article. To view my full list of peacemaking strategies to facilitate settlement, check this out.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships


One Comment
  1. An excellent and thoughtful article, Gary, thank you. I was especially struck by your comment, “So these days evaluations and court are part of the process that perpetuates and escalates conflict.” This summarizes my observations quite well and your response, re-tooling your services toward “peacemaking,” gives me pause. I’m not sure why this process is getting “nastier,” but it sure is and I can only think the cause is systemic. Makes me think of the old Pogo comic strip, “We have found the enemy and he is us.”

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