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 might appoint a particular custody evaluator to your case, or you and your soon to be ex can choose an evaluator on your own. In a lot of cases, the lawyer may be able to suggest a reputable custody evaluator for your case.
If you are choosing an evaluator on your own or choosing from the options provided to you by the judge, you need to ask your lawyer for details concerning the evaluator. For instance, your lawyer might be able to inform you about prior experiences with the evaluator or the evaluator’s record of suggesting custody to child’s mothers over their fathers. You are also able ask your lawyer concerning the evaluator’s capability to deal with unique cases, like the evaluation of custody for a child that has special medical needs. You should not question the evaluator openly since you do not want to do anything that could negatively impact the evaluator’s perception of you.
When you and your soon to be ex agree to a child custody evaluation but are unable to agree on the evaluator, you are able to each hire your own evaluator. But prior to you hiring your own evaluator, you might want to think about the expense. When the court orders the evaluation and you use the county evaluator, you’ll probably pay a decreased hourly rate than if you hire a privatized evaluator. Whereas a county custody evaluation is going to probably cost between $1,000 and $2,500, you could end up paying upwards of $15,000 or more for a privatized evaluation.
On the other hand, if the evaluation is detrimental to you, you should speak with your lawyer how to challenge it in court. A judge does not have to adhere to the custody evaluator’s suggestion, especially if you can demonstrate it was unfair or doesn’t serve best interests of your child.
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 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.
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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