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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Custody Evaluation


Term Definition Custody Evaluation - an evaluation including interviews, psychological testing and home visits undertaken in conjunction with child custody.
Application in Divorce Usually conducted by a mental health professional who is called a guardian ad litem or court investigator, the evaluations are reports that sometimes include nonbinding recommendations. The best interests of the child are controlling in this evaluation.

When custodial agreement cannot be reached between the two parties prior to the trial date, a great deal of preparation may be required by the client and the attorney in order to effectively petition the court for custodial rights.

It is very common to seek the professional opinion and testimony of a counselor or therapist that is capable and qualified to perform child evaluations. The evaluator will study the behavior and emotions of the family relationships, and testify in court or at a deposition to explain his or her conclusions.

The members of the family should be aware of the differences between the distinctive roles of the counselor and the evaluator. The evaluator merely studies the family, where as the counselor not only evaluates, but in fact, is charged with the task of providing extensive advice.

An evaluation should never be sought without prior and full consent of both parties. Any subsequent evaluation should also be inclusive of both parents. The evaluation is to determine if a strong, happy, and healthy relationship exists between the child and the parent.

What to Expect from a Quality Custody Evaluation

There should be a mutual agreement on both sides to have an evaluation conducted. To emphasize the importance of this decision, the commitment should be backed by the signature of each person involved.

One side should never be observed and/or evaluated without the other one present, unless previously notified and authorized.

The child should be observed and evaluated on how he or she acts around each parent individually and collectively. The child may also be interviewed privately, but age and maturity always plays a vital role in this decision.

The evaluator should visit the homes of each parent at a time which would best exemplify the typical family atmosphere. While this would not be a surprise visit, neither should it be coordinated or rehearsed. The child must be present at the residence for at least part of the visit.

The evaluator should inquire about contacting teachers, doctors, baby-sitters, or any other people who have had a fairly close relationship with the child. These people should be called and considered for an interview.

The evaluator should deliver reports to each party concurrently, and a session should be made available in which each parent can address any questions as well as receive information about the child and the family relationships.

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