Psychosocial Expertise in Québec Child Custody Cases

In a child custody case, psychosocial expertise can be vital to figuring out a parenting arrangement that suits the child's best interests. Expertise gives the court an objective picture of family dynamics and parental fitness.

Expertise is common when:

  • There are accusations of sexual, psychological or physical abuse.
  • There's reason to believe the child is suffering from parental alienation.
  • There are concerns that a parent is unfit.

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How an expert gets involved

It's most common for parents or their lawyers to seek out an expert on their own. In this case:

  • The parent or their lawyer chooses the expert.
  • One parent (partial expertise) or both parents (complete expertise) agree to participate and must sign a consent form.
  • The expert takes as much time as they need to complete the expertise.
  • Parents are responsible for the cost.

If a judge orders the expertise, they contact the Service d'expertise psychosociale (Psychosocial Expertise Service) to handle it. In this case:

  • The Service d'expertise psychosociale assigns the expert.
  • The expertise can only happen if both parents agree to participate and fill out a consent form (Word document download).
  • The expert has 90 days to submit their report.
  • The expertise is free.

Experts must be psychologists or social workers. You can find an expert through the Ordre des psychologues du Québec (Board of Psychologists of Québec) or the Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec (Board of Social Workers, Family, and Marriage Therapists of Québec).

Psychosocial expertise process

This is what happens in a complete expertise, where the expert examines both parents and the child and gives a custody recommendation.

A partial expertise, which is less common, follows a similar process. However, because it only examines one parent, the other parent does not participate. A partial expertise does not include a custody recommendation. It gives an opinion on the parent's parental capacity.

Each expert may use a slightly different process. In both types of expertise, the expert can investigate specific concerns if instructed to do so.

Expert's interaction with parents

First, the expert meets one-on-one with each parent. The expert explains the process and rules for confidentiality and answers any questions parents have.

The expert meets with the child's mom first, then the dad.

The expert interviews each parent multiple times. They try to give parents equal interview time to ensure fairness. Parents should be notified of all communication between the expert and the other parent.

Through these interviews, the expert assesses:

  • Each parent's relationship with the child: Does the parent have an emotional connection with the child? Do they understand the child's needs and experiences?
  • The relationship between parents: Do parents get along? If there's conflict, how does it impact the child? Are parents willing to communicate and collaborate?
  • Parental fitness: What are each parent's strengths and weaknesses? Can parents make sure the child is developing properly and meet the child's needs?

In addition to interviews, the expert collects records from parents and professionals to prepare a full life history that covers a parent's:

  • Childhood
  • School years
  • Work history
  • Relationships
  • Criminal history (if any)
  • Mental health background
  • Social circle

They investigate deeper if there's a concern in any of these areas. If qualified, the expert also conducts psychological testing when necessary.

It's common for experts to observe interactions between parents and each of their children individually. The expert may instruct a parent to play a game with their child or teach the child something. The expert observes from another room where they cannot be seen.

Expert's interaction with children

When evaluating a child, the expert looks into:

  • The child's reaction to their parents' separation
  • How they're doing in school
  • Their behaviour
  • Any special needs they have (health or developmental)
  • The child's desires and fears

The expert's methods will differ based on the child's age. They may observe the child play, have a sit-down interview or conduct formal testing. The expert won't ask the child to choose between parents.

Expert's interaction with collateral sources

The expert may interview others who are close to the family, like doctors, teachers, neighbours and friends. They must speak with anyone living in the parent's household, like new partners, as well. They need the parents' permission before reaching out to these collateral sources. Parents can suggest the expert speak with certain people.

Expert report

The expert writes a report to detail their findings.

In a complete expertise, experts recommend a type of custody; some experts also recommend a specific parenting time schedule.

In a partial expertise, experts state conclusions about the fitness and state of the parent observed, but they don't give custody recommendations because they haven't investigated the second parent.

Whether both parents have access to the expertise depends on who requested it. If one parent requested the expertise, only they have access to the report. If the judge ordered it or parents requested it together, both parents have access.

Parents who request expertise on their own may choose not to share the report with the court if it does not support the conclusion they hoped it would.

Ultimately, the judge decides how much weight to give the expert's opinion. A judge may choose not to follow the expert's opinion for many reasons, including the expert's perceived bias or lack of experience.

Contesting an expert's report

At trial, either parent can call an expert to testify.

A parent could ask the court to disregard the report on the basis that it wasn't necessary or the expert is unqualified. A parent may also request a second opinion and go through the expertise process again if the court allows.

If a psychologist conducted the expertise, a parent can file a complaint with the Ordre des psychologues du Québec if they think the expert did something wrong.

Staying organized during the psychosocial expertise process

Expertise adds complexity to an already-complex court process.

Throughout your case, you may need to make a parenting plan, custody schedules, expense records and more.

When a psychosocial expert gets involved, they'll want to see all available information related to your family. This can include your child's activities schedule, other information about your child and messages you've exchanged with the other parent.

The Custody X Change app enables you to create and store all of this in one place.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

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