When divorcing spouses are unable to agree on child custody, a judge may order a custody evaluation. Both spouses participate in the process, where a psychologist or other mental health expert will evaluate both parents and the children and make custody and visitation recommendations to the court.
Since courts usually give significant weight to these recommendations, it is important for divorcing spouses to understand and prepare properly for a child custody evaluation.
First, it is important to know that anything you tell an evaluator is not subject to any doctor-parent legal privilege and will not be considered confidential. While the evaluator is expected to be neutral, their job is to consider the best interests of the child when performing an evaluation.
A typical custody evaluation usually includes:
- Interviews with each parent and each child
- Observing each parent’s interaction with each child, both in their office and possibly at home
- Psychological testing of each parent and each child
- Interviews with other people in the lives of the parents and children — teachers, doctors, nannies, daycare providers, etc.
Naturally, custody evaluations can be a stressful time for the entire family. Preparing properly will help you through the process, and assist the evaluator in understanding your family dynamics. Some tips for preparing for a custody evaluation include:
- Consider the evaluation as you would a job interview. Be on time, dress neatly and be respectful. Don’t be argumentative or defensive.
- Be organized – prepare any documents you want to share with the evaluator. List your concerns so you can communicate them effectively.
- Show that your children are a priority in your life. Share their interests and needs, and keep their best interests in mind at all times.
- Answer questions directly and succinctly. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification.
- Do not speak negatively about the other parent.
- Don’t coach your children, but do help them understand the process.
- If the evaluator asks for further information or documentation, respond promptly.
Following the evaluation process, the evaluator will provide the court with a report that includes custody and visitation recommendations. These recommendations are generally based on the evaluator’s expert opinion as to the quality of the relationship each parent has with each child, how the parents relate to each other, if they have the ability to co-parent successfully, parenting skills, the psychological health of each parent and each child, and any history of drug or alcohol abuse or domestic violence.
In addition to custody and visitation recommendations, custody evaluation reports usually include a parenting plan, guidelines for dealing with conflict, and recommendations for any therapy or counseling that may be needed for parents and children.
When you are faced with an important life decision regarding a key family relationship, the advice and assistance of an experienced family law attorney often proves crucial to your understanding of the issues involved and your satisfaction with the ultimate outcome of your family law matter. Contact us today for your free consultation.