A custody evaluation includes interviews, psychological testing and home visits often undertaken by a mental health professional who is called a guardian ad litem or court investigator. His or her reports sometimes include non-binding recommendations about the best interests of the child.
In custody disputes, the parties often enlist the professional opinion and testimony of a counselor or therapist. The evaluator studies the behavior and emotions of the family relationships and testifies in court or by a deposition to explain his or her conclusions.
The parties should be aware of the differences between a counselor and an evaluator. The evaluator merely studies the family, whereas the counselor not only evaluates but also advises.
Both spouses should mutually consent to an evaluation, and the agreement should be put in writing. One side should never be observed and/or evaluated without the other one present, unless previously notified and authorized.
The evaluation looks at the rapport the child has with each parent, individually and reciprocally. It determines if a strong, happy, and healthy relationship exists between the child and the parent. The child may also be interviewed privately, but age and maturity always play a role in this decision.
The evaluator visits the homes of each parent at a time that best demonstrates the typical family atmosphere. While this is not to be a surprise visit, neither is the visit rehearsed. The child must be present at the residence for at least part of the visit.
The evaluator may contact teachers, doctors, baby-sitters, or any other people who enjoy a fairly close relationship with the child.
The evaluator delivers 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.
Common Questions and Answers
Q. What should a parent involved in a custody evaluation remember?
A. The custody evaluator is neutral. He or she is not taking sides. The evaluator is not judging the parents as people who are good or bad; rather he or she is throwing a cold eye on the quality of the parent-child relationship.
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THE DON’Ts – Good parenting through divorce has a dimension that is negatively defined. Good divorced parents do not speak badly or make accusations about the other parent in front of a child. They do not force a child to choose sides, or use a child as a messenger or go-between, or pump a child for information about the other parent, or argue or discuss child support issues in front of a child. In short, they do not use a child as a pawn to hurt the other parent.
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