It is not uncommon for divorced or separated parents to disagree over which parent should have custody of their children. When parents are fighting over custody of their children, one parent or the other may ask the judge to order a custody evaluation. The results of a custody evaluation can give the judge important information about the parents and the children, and also can make a recommendation as to what custody and visitation arrangements would be in the best interest of the children.
Custody evaluations are typically performed by professionals that routinely evaluate families and children for this purpose. Many custody evaluators are psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals, who have expertise in treating families and children. Usually, either the two parents will come to an agreement as to which custody evaluator to choose, or, if you cannot agree, the court will order a certain person to perform the custody evaluation.
If you are ordered to participate in a custody evaluation, you can expect that the custody evaluator will want to interview you both individually and with your children, any persons who are living in your home, such as your new spouse or boyfriend, and your children by themselves. The custody evaluator will conduct similar interviews with your children’s other parent, and any other persons living in his or her home, as well. It is also common for a custody evaluator to make contact with other persons who have frequent contact with your children, such as school teachers, daycare providers, and counselors. Typically, you and the other parent will sign releases of information that will permit these other persons to speak freely with the custody evaluator about your children.
The custody evaluator is also likely to gather additional information about your family from resources other than interviews. You often will have to complete a lengthy questionnaire regarding your childhood, medical condition, work history, and criminal background, among other things. It is also common for you and your child’s other parent, and perhaps even your children, to undergo personality and/or psychological testing. All of this information is geared toward the custody evaluator’s ability to make a recommendation to the judge that is in the best interest of your children.
Because the information gathered by the custody evaluator is so extensive, it is important to be honest with him or her. If you are less than truthful with the custody evaluator, he or she is likely to discover the truth. Likewise, try to refrain from speaking negatively about your children’s other parent. While it is important that the custody evaluator know the reasons that you believe the children would be better off in your custody, it is also important that you not be overly critical or negative about the other parent.
You should also keep in mind that custody evaluations can be very expensive, often costing several thousand dollars, as well as very stressful. Unfortunately, there is nothing easy about revealing intimate details of your life to a stranger, and paying him or her a lot of money in order to do so. Nonetheless, the custody evaluator is often a crucial tool for the judge – and you - in resolving your custody fight.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.