Child Custody Evaluations
As with any matter involving a child’s well-being, a custody evaluation can be an emotionally-charged ordeal, invoking anxiety in even the most capable of parents. While these evaluations are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of a child custody case, they still bear substantial weight in family court rulings. To properly prepare for the assessment, try to get a thorough understanding of the proceedings, wholeheartedly comply with the evaluator, and seek legal guidance from an experienced family law attorney. Doing so can help the evaluator obtain an authentic discernment of your parenting capacities.
At Tobaygo Law, we have a passionate team of experienced child custody lawyers standing by, ready to deliver pivotal legal counsel for parents facing an upcoming child custody evaluation.
Ensure your parental rights are protected, contact us today to request a free case consultation!
What Is A Child Custody Evaluation?
A child custody evaluation is a legal process in which a court-appointed professional, typically a licensed psychologist, evaluates a separating couple’s parental fitness. This specialist then advises the court regarding a suitable parenting plan and makes recommendations concerning child custody and visitation rights. When compiling their report, the evaluator will consider factors such as the health, safety, and welfare of the children; the amount of time spent with each parent; and any history of substance dependency or child abuse.
The evaluator follows the American Psychological Association’s guidelines and is trusted to act on behalf of the children’s best interests as an impartial third party. After the evaluator makes their recommendations, the family can choose (should both spouses agree) to adopt the evaluator’s parenting plan as their custody agreement. Should they decide not to, the evaluator’s report will be presented to the judge and used, along with any other testimonies, to develop a final parenting plan to resolve the issue.
When Are Custody Evaluations Necessary?
Custody evaluations generally occur when ex-spouses are unable to reach consensus regarding the details of their custody agreement, even after mediation or other settlement efforts, in which case a family court will have to step in, assess the situation, and resolve the issue. Another common reason custody evaluations occur is that some parents may decide their current custody agreement no longer caters to their children’s best interests.
In either case, a judge will appoint a mental health professional to assess each parent’s skills, deficits, and how their unique parenting styles affect their children’s psychological needs. Whether the custody evaluation was court-ordered, or you requested it, having one of our family law attorneys in your corner as a legal advisor will prove to be a vital asset.
The Evaluation Process
As each family’s case will be unique, and evaluators have different approaches to the process, no two evaluations will be the same. Nonetheless, there are still certain elements parents can expect to encounter. Typical evaluations may include:
- Two to three individual interviews with each parent
- Two to three individual interviews with each child
- Observations of each child with each parent (sometimes conducted in-home)
- Interviews with teachers, neighbors, pediatricians, and other collateral sources
- Psychological testings that help to discern personality types, approaches to conflict resolution, and parenting styles
- Review of court documents
Upon completing their evaluation, evaluators will compile a written report outlining their professional recommendations for child custody and timesharing that addresses any significant concerns voiced by both parents and reflects the child’s best interests.
Preparing To Be Evaluated
Custody evaluation interviews and observations are understandably nerve-wracking for most parents and more than a little odd for children. Try following some of the guidelines below to help prepare you and your child for the upcoming evaluation, and be sure to discuss what to expect with your child custody attorney.
If doing so helps codify the situation in your mind, think of the evaluation as a job interview and approach it as such. Dress neatly, be at least ten minutes early, organize any necessary documents, and try to be yourself (the evaluator is sure to notice any insincerity.) While the goal is to present yourself favorably, doing so by speaking unfavorably about your ex-spouse is discouraged; instead, do so by communicating about your strengths as a parent. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be open about your ex-spouse’s shortcomings, only that focusing on the children’s needs and interests will better illustrate your merit as a capable parent. Remember, though the evaluator is a psychologist, the court is their client, meaning nothing you say is subject to therapist-patient confidentiality.
The children will be individually interviewed at least twice; don’t become defensive when that time comes. Understand the evaluator will be acting strictly with the children’s best interests in mind, which will ultimately benefit them. Help your children understand what’s happening, that they’ll be asked questions, and that they should answer them openly and honestly. Under no circumstances should a parent tell their children what to say or how to answer — this is known as “coaching” and will only make them look bad. Reassure children that their feelings are important to both their parents and their answers won’t be why they get to stay with one parent or the other.
How Can A Child Custody Lawyer Help Me?
The child custody attorneys of Tobaygo Law have provided legal counsel to many parents ordered to go through custody evaluations. Our family law firm comprises a team of highly-skilled, knowledgeable attorneys who are passionate about defending your rights as a parent. To begin benefitting from the full-breadth of comprehensive legal services we provide today, contact us, and request a free case consultation!