Custody Evaluation, Part I: What Is it?

Even under ideal circumstances, custody battles are tense, emotional situations that absolutely will affect the rest of your life. When you and your ex have serious issues like abuse, neglect, or parental unfitness in the mix, the court will schedule a custody evaluation. Yes, custody evaluations: when they happen, they’re a crucial part of how the court decides whether your children are going to live with you, your soon-to-be ex-spouse, or both.

The purpose of a custody evaluation is simple: they exist so that the court can gather the information it needs in order to make a custody decision that genuinely services the best interests of the child. Child custody evaluators are legally bound to act as independent agents, not advocating for either parent but only returning raw facts to the court.

Obviously, if you’ve got a custody evaluation coming up, it’s in your interest to prepare. But in order to understand how to prepare, we need to start by discussing what you are preparing for.

How a Custody Evaluation Works
First, a court-appointed psychiatrist (psychologist in some states) will evaluate each member of the family independently, including any ‘secondary’ members such as step-parents, new fiancés, or cohabitants. Then, a trained custody evaluator will interview both parents alone, then the two together, then any children who have the skills to be interviewed alone, then the entire family together.

The interview is essentially a fact-finding mission, with each iteration being nearly identical to the others in terms of questions asked. Each person is offered the chance to discuss their concerns about children, custody, parenting time, and the other parent where relevant. If any substantive accusations are made, the process is paused until the accused has the opportunity to respond.

Then, optionally, the evaluator may require each parent (and even more optionally, each child) to take one or more psychological tests designed to assess each individual’s psychological status and their emotional connections to each other, as well as looking at childrens’ academic potential.

Next comes an observation session of each parent interacting with their child, usually in the family’s home but occasionally in the examiner’s office. During this observation, the evaluator records observations about each parent’s willingness and capacity to interact with their children.

Finally, collateral sources are questioned. This means the evaluator either talks or writes to a number of entities including schools, nannies, employers, therapists, care providers, CPS, the police, and anyone else that either parent may have left an impression on. These sources are reviewed in order to provide a greater understanding of the family’s situation, but not often used to establish character or otherwise malign one party over the other.

Too much information?

We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.

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