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Child Custody Evaluations

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When you are in a contested custody trial, a judge might order a child custody evaluation.

When you are a parent enduring a divorce, a judge is going to need to decide how you are going to share parenting time with your soon to be ex and who is going to make decisions concerning your children. Many divorcing parents can come to their own custody settlement agreements bypassing court. When parents are unable to agree, the judge might order a custody evaluation to assist in assessing what is the best interests of the child.

What Are Child Custody Evaluations?

Child custody evaluations are a report devised by a custody evaluator. It outlines the evaluator’s conclusions and advocates why one parent should be granted custody over the other. The evaluators are highly trained mental health professionals and typically have experience as a child counselor or psychologist.

The custody evaluation process may take a couple of weeks to conclude. Your evaluator is going to want to collect information and meet with you and your children separately to make sure the child is not being wrongfully pressured by a parent to say specific things.

When Am I Going to Need a Custody Evaluation?

When you cannot come to a custody agreement with your soon to be ex after attempting mediation, a judge might order a custody evaluation. Parents can petition for a custody evaluation even when a judge does not. Custody evaluations are typically appropriate in cases in which the parents cannot agree on custody or in which one parent is asserting that the other parent is “unfit.” The custody evaluator can find the cause of the parents’ assertations and help a court establish what type of arrangement is in the best interest of the child.

Choosing An Evaluator

A judge may appoint or allow you to choose a custody evaluator. Your lawyer can recommend a reputable evaluator.

Questions to Ask Your Lawyer

Learn about the evaluator’s background and past cases. Inquire about their experience, especially in unique situations.

Private vs. County Evaluator

If you and your ex can’t agree, you may each hire an evaluator. Consider costs; county evaluations are often less expensive.

Evaluating the Report

If the report is unfavorable, discuss with your lawyer how to challenge it in court, emphasizing your child’s best interests.

The Evaluation Process

A lot of evaluators utilize psychological tests for both children and parents. Many evaluators conduct the tests themselves; many could send you to a different professional for testing. In addition to testing, a custody evaluator is going to interview the child(ren) and their parents, including any teachers, sitters, family friends, and extended members of the family.

The evaluator might also investigate healthcare records, report cards from school, and attendance records. After all the evidence is collected and examined, the evaluator is going to suggest to the court that either the parents share joint custody or one parent must receive primary physical/ legal custody. A judge does not have to follow a custody evaluator’s suggestion. Nevertheless, a custody evaluation done by a knowledgeable evaluator is going to carry a lot of weight concerning your case.

The Report

The custody evaluator is going to submit their report to you, your soon to be ex, and the court all at once. The report might make suggestions concerning the following:

  • custody, visitations, and time sharing
  • suggestions for family or individual counseling
  • how to manage family disputes in the future, and
  • the impacts of a parent’s individual concerns, such as substance abuse and/or mental health problems.

In addition, your custody evaluation report may suggest a re-evaluation for a specific time down the road, particularly if your children are younger.

Can You Challenge Findings in Evaluation Reports?

If anything occurs in the evaluation process that is concern of you—for instance, the evaluator comes off as having a strong bias in favor of your soon to be ex or asks inappropriate questions—speak with your lawyer immediately, prior to the report being submitted. A judge may not take your concerns seriously if they are brought up after the report was submitted.

Following you getting the custody evaluator’s suggestion, you should talk about it with your lawyer. If the suggestion is acceptable to you, you’re most likely better off agreeing to the suggested course of action and forfeiting your day in court, where you could end up getting less. Nevertheless, when the child custody evaluation is unfavorable to you, you should talk with your lawyer on how to challenge it in court. A judge does not have to follow the evaluator’s suggestion, especially when you can demonstrate it was one-sided or doesn’t serve best interests of your child.

Source:

  1. Emily Doskow, A. (2021, October 15). Child custody evaluations. www.divorcenet.com. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.divorcenet.com/resources/divorce/divorce-and-children/child-custody-evaluations-during-di

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