When parents cannot agree on child custody during divorce, they must let a judge decide who will receive custody. This process may include review of a custody evaluation prepared by a third party, recommending a custody arrangement. Divorcing parents should understand what a custody evaluation is and know their roles in the process.
A family court judge orders a custody evaluation but parents must agree to it. A psychologist or other mental health professional with training in family issues serves as the custody evaluator. Alternatively, the court may appoint a lawyer as the guardian ad litem to represent interests of the children. In some cases, the judge may allow parents to select an evaluator or provide a list of several evaluators and let parents choose one.
When they are able to select an evaluator, parents should consider several factors including the experience of the individual and whether he or she has dealt with special family circumstances, such as a special needs child. Parents may inquire about previous recommendations made by an evaluator. If parents cannot agree on an evaluator, each may hire a different one for child custody help during divorce.
If the evaluation is mandatory and the county provides the evaluator, the cost typically ranges from $1,000 to $2,500. If the parents select a private evaluator, the evaluation usually costs at least $10,000. Double this cost if each parent chooses a different evaluator. With this approach, it can be expensive to win custody during divorce, so parents should try to agree on custody or at least on a custody evaluator.
Each evaluation is unique but the process usually involves multiple, planned interviews with each parent and at least one interview with each child. The evaluator will also observe each parent interacting with each child at home or in the evaluator’s office. Information will be obtained from medical providers, childcare workers, and teachers and psychological testing may be administered to both parents and children. In addition, the evaluator will review the court file for the case.
Parents should tell their family law attorneys about aspects of the evaluation process that they consider questionable. This enables the lawyer to bring the issue to the attention of the court before the evaluation report is submitted. Once the evaluation report is issued, each parent should sit down with his or her family lawyer to review it and accept or reject the recommended custody arrangement.