Family Law

The Role of a Professional Child Custody Evaluator

During the divorce process, a court may order a child custody evaluation. This evaluation is conducted by a professional child custody evaluator. The evaluator is a neutral examiner who tries to determine the best interests of the child, which is the legal standard by which courts make custody decisions. The evaluator's recommendations will guide the court in its decisions on child custody and visitation.

Voluntary Versus Court-Ordered Evaluations

A court may order a child custody evaluation if the parents can't agree on a custody plan. However, the parents can cooperate and volunteer for an evaluation. This cooperation helps the professional evaluator in the examination of the family. A voluntary two-party evaluation is the best arrangement. A one-party evaluation may not be useful since the evaluator won't have all the information to help make an informed recommendation.

Skills of a Child Custody Evaluator

Professional evaluators are normally psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers. They have training and skills in various child custody issues, including family dynamics, child development and child abuse. An evaluator should also have the knowledge and understanding of the legal and cultural issues involved in custody arrangements.

Function of a Child Custody Evaluator

Child custody issues during a divorce can become very complicated. Both parents attempt to magnify their virtues and minimize their faults. Sometimes the custody dispute becomes very intense and leads to anger. The court may need an expert's help in determining the child custody arrangements.

A professional child custody evaluator functions as an expert witness who maintains an impartial stance. The focus of the evaluation is on how the lives of the parents and the child fit together. The evaluator attempts to answer the question of what's in the best interests of the child.

The evaluator performs a complete examination of all the parties involved in the custody dispute. He interviews both parents and the child. The evaluator watches the interaction between the child and the parents. He may even conduct psychological testing.

An evaluator will use multiple methods to gather information. He has an obligation to maintain written records of the information. The evaluator will then write a report for the court. This report may contain:

  • A custody and visitation recommendation
  • Therapy suggestions
  • Suggestions for parenting classes
  • A parenting plan
  • A reevaluation schedule

The court will use the report to help guide its decision as to child custody and visitation. It's in the judge's discretion as to how much weight an evaluator's report will be given. Judges, just like evaluators, are guided by their understanding of the best interests of the child.

Challenging the Child Custody Evaluator's Report

If you're unhappy with the recommendations in the evaluator's report, you can put the evaluator on the witness stand to answer questions. You may also seek the opinion of another experienced child custody professional. This professional can present their opinions and challenges on the witness stand. If you need to challenge the evaluator's recommendations, talk to your attorney about the cost of hiring another child custody professional.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Should I volunteer for a child custody evaluation or should I wait to see if the court orders one?
  • If I have a say in who's the child custody evaluator, do you know of any evaluators that have a good reputation of being competent and skillful in their examinations?
  • How should I prepare and what should I bring for a child custody evaluation?
  • Can a court force me to take personality test as a part of the evaluation process?

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