When parents get divorced, deciding on child custody and parenting responsibilities can be a tremendous challenge. Sometimes an agreement is reached during mediation, other times it requires the court to step in and make decisions on the parents behalf.
When the court does step in, the most common method it uses is to require a child custody evaluation. This happens when a couple isn’t able to work out a custody agreement during mediation or after trying a temporary custody arrangement.
What Is A Child Custody Evaluation?
The child custody evaluation itself is a document that an evaluator prepares for a judge to review. It provides the evaluator’s opinion about the best custody and visitation arrangement for the family.
A custody evaluator is typically a mental health professional–often a psychologist–with special training and experience in reviewing family situations and making recommendations to a judge about what custody arrangements and parenting plan would be in the best interests of the child or children involved.
While the evaluator’s recommendation is not binding to the court, most judges will give it a lot of weight when making their final decisions.
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What Is The Process?
While the child custody evaluation process is somewhat unique to each particular family, there are a handful of steps that will likely take place during every evaluation process. This includes:
- Planned interviews with both spouses up to three times
- Interviews with the children once or twice
- Spending time with each child and parent to observe parent/child interactions
- Background information gathering from teachers, doctors, therapists, etc.
- Court file review
Many child custody evaluators use psychological testing as well–for both children and parents. Some do the testing themselves and some send you to another professional for testing.
What’s In The Final Report?
Once the child custody evaluation is complete, the evaluator with submit the report to both spouses and the court at the same time. Depending on the parameters set in creating the evaluation, the final report will make recommendations about some or all of the following:
- Custody, visitation, and time sharing
- Recommendations of therapy for the family either together or for specific individuals
- Conflict resolution suggestions
- Substance abuse recommendations
The report may recommend a reevaluation for a specific time in the future, especially if the children are very young.
After receiving the recommendation, each spouse should sit down with their lawyer and discuss it. If acceptable, it’s a good idea agree to the recommended course of action and forgo a court hearing. If either spouse disagrees with the recommendation (even if the the other agrees with it) both spouses will have to go to court and let the judge decide.