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Guidelines for Custody Evaluations

Treat the psychologist with respect. Be friendly, sincere and candid. Smile. Approach the evaluation as you would approach a job interview. Do not become defensive. Do not treat the psychologist as a confidante. Statements that you make to the psychologist are NOT confidential.

NEVER say anything negative about the other parent or his or her family. Emphasize the good things about your children and your relationship with them. Demonstrate your knowledge about their interests, friends, teachers, academic pursuits and after school activities. If the psychologist asks you about the other parent's negative qualities, stick to the facts. Describe a specific incident without commentary and let the psychologist draw his or her own conclusion.

DO NOT suggest the possibility of physical, sexual or psychological abuse unless you have clear proof. The psychologist cannot investigate allegations of child abuse but has a duty to report to CYS. If you believe that your child has been abused, contact CYS. An unproven allegation of abuse is EXTREMELY damaging to your credibility and your case.

Tell the psychologist exactly what you want and what you are willing to give up. If you are asked to describe the partial custody schedule that you would like the other parent to have, be generous. Try to reconcile your children's school and social schedules with your work schedule and the other parent's work schedule. Do not devote a lot of time discussing minor issues such as holidays, vacations or transportation unless such issues are very important to you. If you are willing to engage in further mediation or family counseling, say so. Tell the psychologist whether you desire a highly structured schedule or can be flexible.

Be prepared and stay focused. Bring homework, games or food (if appropriate) for the interactional sessions. Calm your children's nervousness but do not coach them about what to say. Bring written information about schools, churches or synagogues, sports and arts activities, doctors and counselors in your area. Inform the psychologist about your children's special needs and how you plan to fulfill their needs.

The psychologist's recommendation carries great influence with the judge, but it is not the only factor. Get a good night's sleep before your interview and try to remain calm. After your interview, you may send a brief note (not a lengthy letter) to thank the psychologist or to provide additional information about an issue that interested the psychologist. DO NOT call the psychologist (except to schedule appointments) unless he or she asks you to do so. Pay the psychologist's fee PROMPTLY.

Do not focus on the other parent's past failures. Describe your children's current needs and desires. Think long-term. Whether favorable or unfavorable, the psychologist's recommendation and the resulting custody schedule can be modified at any time. There is no finality or lasting resolution in a contested custody case.

Questions to Think About

  • What are your children's interests?
  • How is their progress in school?
  • What activities do you share with your children?
  • Who purchases their clothes? takes them to doctors appointments? checks their homework? enrolls them in sports or arts instruction? prepares their meals? escorts them to the bus stop in the morning? helps them to resolve their problems? shares their triumphs?
  • Who taught your children to walk? to talk? to read? to count? Who potty trained them?
  • What is your children's school day schedule? their weekend schedule? your work and social schedule? your travel schedule? the other parent's schedule?
  • Who are the children's teachers? babysitters? neighborhood friends? coaches? counselors? pets? grandparents? step-parents? half siblings?
  • What do your children like to eat? to wear? to read? What medications, exercises or educational program have been prescribed?
  • What are your strengths as a parent? your weaknesses? the other parent's strengths and weaknesses? What will the other parent say about you?
  • Will your children express a preference? What motivates their preference?

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Pennsylvania grants a fault divorce if a spouse deserts without reasonable cause for one or more years, commits adultery, endangers the life of his or her partner or subjects a partner to cruel or barbarous treatment, was already married to someone else (bigamy) when he or she married, was sentenced to jail for longer than two years, or has made the conditions intolerable or life burdensome.
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