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By: Maury D.
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.
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
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
The evaluator will make at least one home
visit to watch you interact with your
child(ren). The evaluator is watching to
- 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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
About the Author
Name: Maury D. Beaulier
Firm: Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC
Practice: Family Law
Maury D. Beaulier has been recognized by the
International Who's Who of
Minnesota Law & Politics Magazine
(February, 1999) and more recently featured
in Lawyers Weekly USA (March,