Psycho-Legal Assessment and Evaluation

Psycho-Legal  assessment and evaluation is required in disputes over parental responsibilities and rights which are not successfully resolved in mediation, or in high conflict separation and divorce contexts.

The Children’s Act 38 of 2005

Sections 18 to 23 of the Act detail what parental responsibilities and rights are and who possesses them. Responsibilities and rights include the care for, contact with and maintenance of children by their parents.

Section 7 of the Act outlines the best interests of the child as the standard which must be upheld when decisions about parental rights and responsibilities are made. Section 10 of the Act indicates that children, depending on their age, developmental level and maturity, should participate in the process of making decisions which affect them. This does not mean that children make the decisions, but rather that they are consulted to hear their views and these are taken into consideration within their best interests.

Section 33 of the Act requires that any disputes about parents’ responsibilities and rights should be attempted to be resolved first in mediation before resorting to going to court to resolve them. If parties are not able to reach a settlement or agree on a parenting plan in mediation then parents usually proceed to court for decisions to be made. Psycho-legal assessment may be required to inform the court of the best interests of the child. An enquiry by the Family Advocate's Office is also ordered alongside psycho-legal evaluations.

Psycho-legal assessment involves full assessment of the child as well as of the parents and the interactions between the child and both parents. It further includes home visit observations and consultation with collateral sources. It is an intense process at the end of which a detailed report is presented for the court to consider in making a determination.

The cost of psycho-legal assessment : The cost of a psycho-legal  assessment and evaluation is recommended to be shared by both parties, but is often borne by the parent requesting the assessment. Notwithstanding which parent is responsible for or mandated to cover the cost, the best interests of the child are observed.

Both parents and the child are required to participate in the assessment process for the holistic and comprehensive evaluation to be completed.  It is a lenghty and therefore expensive process,  best averted by taking the mediation route. However, it is a necessary process when resolution cannot be reached between parents regarding residence, care and contact for their children. Psycho-legal evaluation leads to the psychologist interpreting and presenting psychological information and related recommendations to the Honourable Court. The Court is the final authority in such matters.