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Custody Evaluations

By: Maury D. Beaulier

EVALUATORS

In most cases where the parents are unable to agree on custody, the court will require a custody evaluation performed. This may be carried out by county social workers, psychologists or a Guardian Ad Litem. A Guardian Ad Litem is a person that is appointed by the Court to represent the interests of a person who is unable to do so for themselves. In the context of a custody case, the Guardian Ad Litem acts as a spokesperson regarding what the Guardian believes is in the child’s best interests.

REPORTS

The person performing the evaluation will investigate the facts and generate a report that is provided to the Court. The report will usually include a summary of the investigation, an analysis of the custody factors set out in your state's Statutes and a conclusion regarding what is in the child(ren)’s best interests.

THE USE OF CUSTODY EVALUATIONS

The Court is not required to adopt the recommendations of a custody evaluator. However, in most custody cases, the parties have very polar positions regarding the facts. This often boils down to a “He Said - She Said” Situation at trial. Where the evaluation was performed by a person appointed by the Court, the evaluator is considered a neutral party and their recommendation may hold considerable weight with a Judge who must weigh conflicting testimony. To combat an unfavorable custody report, your attorney will try to point out the deficiencies of the investigation performed and facts that may have been overlooked by the evaluator. It is may also be necessary to hire your own expert to conduct a separate custody evaluation and present a different recommendation at trial.

POWERS OF THE EVALUATOR

The custody evaluator often has broad power and may require the parties to provide releases of information for counseling, medical or psychological records. The evaluator may also require psychological testing, chemical dependency evaluations or random urinalysis tests as part of the investigation process. This is particularly true when one parent raises concerns about the other parent’s chemical dependency or emotional stability.

CUSTODY STUDY ELEMENTS

Although each custody evaluator may have a slightly different approach to performing custody evaluations there are some things you should expect :

Initial Interview with Evaluator.

At the initial interview, the evaluator will discuss at length the past history of care with the child. The evaluator will attempt to determine who was the primary caretaker. BE PREPARED! At the initial interview arrive prepared with a chronology of events clearly set out.

Home Visit(s).

The evaluator will make at least one home visit to watch you interact with your child(ren). The evaluator is watching to see:

  • Whether you actively play with and interact with your child;
     
  • Whether you set appropriate boundaries for the child and whether the child obeys those boundaries;
     
  • Discipline used
     
  • Child’s reaction to the parent:
     
  • Condition of the home environment.
     
  • Collateral Contacts.

The evaluator will ask for a list of persons that you think the evaluator should contact. Family members are usually not good contact since they may be biased in your favor. Where possible use independent contacts such as counselors, daycare providers, and school teachers.

Alcohol Assessments.

Where there are allegations of alcohol or drug abuse, the evaluator may refer you to a counselor for a chemical dependency evaluation. It is important that you cooperate in that process.

Psychological Evaluations.

Where there are allegations of emotional or anger problems, the evaluator may refer you to a counselor or psychologist for a psychological evaluation. It is important that you cooperate in that process. Make sure that you communicate with the evaluator or counselor regarding any and all appointments. Budget enough time to complete and testing that is required. A failure to cooperate will appear in the evaluation.

INTERACTING WITH THE EVALUATOR

How you interact with the custody evaluator may be a critical element of your custody case.

T Custody evaluators will oftentimes make you believe that they agree with your side of the case. This is done so that you drop your guard. Never assume that the evaluator’s report will favor your position.

t">How does that schedule provide stability?
 

  • Why is that schedule in the child’s best interests?

  • Remember: The custody evaluator is also looking at which parent is more likely to facilitate contact with the other parent. If you appear to be an unreasonable obstructionist with regard to the other parent’s contact, it may be used against you.)

    PARENTING NOTEBOOKS.

    In a custody proceeding it is important to maintain a notebook including dates that events occur relating to the care of your child(ren). What is the daily routine? Who takes them to the doctor? Who takes them to school activities? List any concerns regarding the other party’s parenting including the method of discipline, drug use, alcohol use, disabilities or neglect.

    Copyright (c) By Maury D. Beaulier. All Rights Reserved


    About the Author

    Name: Maury D. Beaulier
    Email: mbeaulier@hjlawfirm.com
    Firm: Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC
    Website: http://www.divorceprofessionals.com
    Practice: Family Law

    Maury D. Beaulier has been recognized by the International Who's Who of Professionals (1996), Minnesota Law & Politics Magazine (February, 1999) and more recently featured in Lawyers Weekly USA (March, 2000).


    The opinions, statements and information contained and expressed in the foregoing article are solely those of the author. No position for or against, agreeing with or disagreeing with anything contained in said article is taken by  AllGoodLawyers.com. We do not assume or accept any liability for the use of the information contained herein. This article is published solely as a service to attorneys, lawyers and the internet community. Anyone who does not accept this disclaimer is not authorized to read or use this article in any way.

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