A custody evaluation is an extremely important part of a divorce case involving children. Without a custody evaluation, the part of the trial involving custody will spiral into a he-said, she-said situation in which everyone—especially the children—suffer. The purpose of a custody evaluation is to provide the court with unbiased information to make the right decisions about custody and parent time. This being said, it is vital to hire a good attorney that has the skill set to guide you through the rules and help you maximize the outcome of your custody evaluation.
Who conducts the custody evaluation?
Custody evaluators are professionals who have training in child development and who are licensed by the state as either: social workers, psychologists, clinical mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, or physicians who are certified in psychiatry. Their job is to observe and record specific factors with parents and children, as well as interview everyone involved, make home visits, and administer psychological testing. The evaluator will come to their own conclusions and recommendations and report their findings to the court. If the parents cannot come to a conclusion relating to parent time/custody issues then the evaluation will become essential in the judge’s decision. It is important to note that the evaluator’s job is to be as unbiased as possible; even if you know that you are a better parent than your ex, do not underestimate your ex’s ability to prove themselves as great parents as well. They are there to objectively evaluate both parties to ultimately provide the best outcome for the children.
Preparing for a custody evaluation
If you are a devoted parent and nervous about the potential outcome your children will have based on the evaluator’s opinion, then it is never too early to start getting ready for the evaluation. In any divorce/custody matter, it is very important to document the events involving you and your ex’s parental involvement, even if it is just taking detailed notes in a journal. It’s also smart to limit communication with your ex to email or text so that all contact involving the children is documented.
Above all else, it is most important to have a good lawyer on your side who understands what the evaluators are looking for and what will help you move forward successfully in your case. There are many factors that will affect the evaluator’s criteria for a good home, for example, the child’s age, the previous primary caretaker, whether there have been any issues involving abuse or drug and alcohol abuse, etc., and your attorney will understand what those are and what the evaluator is looking for. Make sure you have all of the children’s important documents ready, like their school and medical records. Along with the children’s important documents, make sure you have your W-2 forms, bank records/credit card statements, or any other documents you feel would be relevant to your situation. Display (or have on hand) pictures of you involved in activities with the children like volunteering to help at school, coaching any sports teams, or even taking them to a museum or amusement park.
Tips for during your evaluation
Considering the custody evaluator will want to know many personal things about your home and your life, it is essential that you be completely honest with them. If you lie, it will only come back and harm your case and jeopardize your parent’s time. When answering questions you also want to be direct and careful to paint yourself in the best light as possible. Before the evaluation, it is important to come prepared with questions and relevant information you want to discuss with the evaluator to show your devotion and preparedness. Another important tip is to have a positive attitude and never talk negatively about the other parent, even if what you’re saying maybe true and important to the matter. You will get the opportunity to discuss your concerns about the other parent, but the evaluation is not the time, especially if you cannot back up your allegations with concrete evidence and proof.
On the day of your evaluation, it is important that you keep all your appointments with the evaluator and show up on time or early. If the evaluator is coming to your home, ensure your space is clean and child friendly by removing or fixing any dangerous hazards like exposed wires, broken steps, or firearms that are not properly stored. Inform your children that someone will be coming in to talk to them and advise them to tell the truth but DO NOT coach them, considering the evaluators are trained to detect when a child has been coached, and it will look very bad to the judge. Make sure you and your children are well-rested and looking your best. Remember to relax and think about why you’re doing this.
Custody evaluations can seem scary considering your child’s life is in their hands. If you hire an attorney and take into consideration the tips discussed, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Remember that if you really are the fittest parent, the evaluator will recognize that. Relax, be your best self, and be prepared. If you need further legal counsel, call CoilLaw at 801-884-3775 to schedule a consultation.