The role of doctors and social workers in custody/parenting disputes


The Role of Health Care Professionals

In custody/parenting disputes, the role of doctors, social workers or other health care professionals should be to assist the family resolve its dispute as quickly, efficiently and above all else, as fairly as possible.  Members of the Family Justice Review Committee feel that those in the health care profession should ensure that their skills and knowledge are used in a constructive way to help the family, not to tear it apart.

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of incidents where parents have gone to health care professionals to obtain letters or affidavits supporting them in a custody battle.  Often these health care professionals are being fed misinformation by one of the parents in order to get the professional to support tem. It is known in the industry that some lawyer know where to go to get medical reports slanted to their clients advantage.  This is a process known as "counsellor shopping" or "assessment shopping."

Unfortunately some of these professionals have found out too late that they were being used by the parent or the parent's lawyer as part of a plan to distort the truth.  Some of these health care professionals have ended up facing lawsuits in the millions of dollars.  One family doctor in Scarborough, Ontario was recently sued for 3.5 million dollars just for writing a one page letter in which he repeated mis-information given to him by one of the parents about the other.  The doctor wrote his letter without ever speaking to the other party or speaking to the children.   In addition, because the letter was on the medical center's letterhead, all the other directors of the medical center were also named in the lawsuit.

All professionals who become involved with the family in a custody dispute must maintain the highest level of ethics and accountability and to provide services fairly and responsibly.  Some suggestions that will help to ensure that professionals do not get caught up in the family's dispute include:

  • Professionals must make a reasonable effort to contact BOTH parties in the dispute.  Taking information from only one parent and then writing a report based on what only one party submits is not acceptable. The only time that a professional may make a report to assist a family will be when the other party has refused to meet and provide information.

  • All reports or letters must be written objectively.

  • Equal opportunity must be given to BOTH parties to have information submitted and referred to in a report.

  • Remain as neutral third parties at all times - do not take sides or make judgment.  Remember that in a custody and access dispute parents will distort the facts and even lie to get third party information which will help them win their case against the other side.  Report on facts and let the courts do their jobs of reviewing the facts.

Citizens within the community who submit complaints to the Family Justice Review Committee about health care professionals who act outside of these guidelines will have their complaint investigated and reviewed by the Committee and if it is confirmed that the professional has acted outside of the expectations of members of the community then their name will be removed from the referral list of health care professionals that the committee promotes within the community.  The Committee may also take other actions as is deemed necessary to ensure that professionals violating guidelines are brought to the attention of the general community or to assist the parents involved in obtaining assistance with regards to a lawsuit if this is felt warranted.

If you are a member of the public and wish to complain about a health care professional (doctor, social worker) who may acting outside of the guidelines of the Family Justice Review Committee and where this has caused problems for you or your children, then contact the Family Justice Review Committee by email or phone us at (416) 410-4115