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Child Custody Evaluations: What You Need To Know

It would be wonderful for all concerned if important divorce issues like child custody could be worked out in advance, but all too often this becomes a contentious legal fight. If you and your spouse cannot sit down and work out a fair and workable child custody and visitation arrangement, the judge must do the deciding in a courtroom. Some judges use a custody evaluator to help them make the custody decision. If you are facing the possibility of a custody evaluation, read on for guidance and what to expect.

Who is a custody evaluator?

The evaluator is usually a mental health professional; they may be social workers, psychologists or mental health counselors. In some states these professionals are referred to as a guardian ad litem. The requirements for evaluators vary from state to state, but they usually have specialized training in interviewing children and parents. The judge will either choose an evaluator for you, or give you a short list of candidates from which you and your spouse can chose. It's important to note that you must pay for the services of this evaluator; fees vary but expect to pay anywhere from $2,000.00 to $6,000.00. Given that information you may want to reconsider trying to work out a plan yourselves.

What does the evaluation involve?

Most evaluations consist of several interview sessions; there are interviews with just your children, interviews with each parent, and sometimes sessions where your interactions with your child are observed.

In addition to the interviews, the evaluator may also talk to your child's teachers and school councilors, doctors, other therapists if pertinent, and other relatives who have frequent interactions with the child.

Finally, many evauators conduct psychological tests on your child and sometimes on the parents as well. This may involve another mental health professional, since psychological testing is another specialty area with specific certifications.

What can you do?

This entire evaluation process can be a stressful, scary, intimidating event. Try to stay calm and be very aware of your behavior while in the presence of the evaluator.

If you notice the evaluator showing bias toward the other parent during the interview process, or if you notice anything at all that is amiss with the evaluation process, alert your divorce attorney immediately. You may be able to request a different evaluator, or get your own evaluation done if necessary. If you wait until the evaluation is complete, it will be too late to take action.

Your divorce attorney will be able to guide you toward a successful evaluation, so make sure that you consult with a lawyer who has plenty of experience dealing with contested custody cases. Being prepared for this evaluation could help you to win custody of your children, so follow your attorney's advice and prove your parental fitness to the judge. You can also find answers online, such as at