In an ideal world, you and your child’s other parent would come to an agreement on child custody, and you’d both be capable of effective co-parenting. But, as you know if you’re reading this post, we often live in a less-than-ideal world. That means that despite your best efforts, your child custody dispute may end up in court being decided by a judge. But how is a judge going to make that determination?
Looking at the big picture, the court is going to base its decision on what it thinks is in the child’s best interest. This is a comprehensive assessment of all relevant factors, which leaves the door open for a lot of argument. However, the court has another tool at its disposal: the child custody evaluation.
What is a child custody evaluation?
These evaluations take a comprehensive look at your family’s dynamics in order to make a recommendation to the court about what sort of custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. A mental health professional will conduct the evaluation, giving insight into how particular custody arrangements will impact the child’s emotional and psychological well-being.
Although the parties can request or the court can order a custody evaluation at any time, these assessments tend to occur in high-conflict cases. They’re also ordered in cases where there are allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health concerns, and problematic parenting skills.
What goes into a custody evaluation?
There’s a lot that can go into a custody evaluation. This includes:
- Interviews with the parents
- Interviews with the child
- Observations of parenting time
- Review of pertinent records, including schooling, medical, and police records
- Interviews with other relevant individuals, including family members, friends, and school personnel
- Psychological and other mental health testing of parents and the child
Since the standard for a custody modification is what’s in the child’s best, the evaluator often has broad discretion to address issues that are relevant to the court’s determination.
How to prepare for your custody evaluation
Even though the custody evaluation can be stressful, there are things that you can do to prepare for it. This includes:
- Being cooperative: Even if you opposed the evaluation, you need to be cooperative with the evaluator. If you come across aggressive or uncooperative, you might give a bad impression to the evaluator, which will negatively impact you in their final report.
- Being organized: The custody evaluator is going to have a lot of questions for you, and they’ll want to review a lot of documentation. Make sure you’re anticipating what they’re going to ask so that you can adequately be prepared and organized.
- Putting your child at the forefront: It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotions of a custody fight. But if you let your emotions get the best of you during an evaluation, you might put yourself at a disadvantage. Always direct your answers toward what’s best for your child.
What can you do if you disagree with the evaluator’s report?
The child custody evaluation is going to culminate with a written report that’s filed with the court. The judge will likely give this report a lot of weight, but that’s not to say that they’re going to agree with everything.
Therefore, if you receive an unfavorable custody report after an evaluation, you might want to consider other evidence that might support your position. You might also be able to attack the evaluator as being biased.
So, as you navigate your child custody dispute and the child custody evaluation, make sure that you have an understanding of how to make arguments that protect your position and your child’s best interests. Hopefully then you can obtain the outcome that you seek.