The primary emotion most people experience in a child custody evaluation is raw panic. If that’s where you are, please know you’re not alone. The purpose of this page is to help you anticipate some of the questions and issues that will come up so you can deal with them in a more relaxed way. That will make it better for you and for your child.
- What’s going to happen?
- How can I improve the odds?
The judge, or the parties if they are able to agree, will select an independent child custody evaluator. Typically, this would be a mental health professional who specializes in dealing with children or adolescents and is specificially attuned to their needs. The evaluator would be neutral – that is, not trying to press for result or the other. The evaluator will visit with you, with the other parent, and with the child or children. The evaluator typically would visit both parties’ homes to get a better understanding of the environment in which the child would live. Depending on the evaluator’s skills and outlook, the evaluator might give one or more psychological tests to the parents or the child or children.
The evaluator typically would produce a written report. Depending on the orientation in your court, that report might be provided confidentially to the judge, but would more typically be provided to both parties and to the judge.
A child custody evaluation typically is finished in a matter of a few weeks. Experienced child custody evaluators know that the parties they interview are extremely nervous and edgy.
A child custody evaluation is inherently subjective. Let no one argue otherwise. You always hope that evaluator will search for the alternative that’s best for the child, and clearly most evaluators at least attempt to do that. Click here to read the Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings from the American Psychological Association.
However, evaluators are nothing if not human. In addition to their professionalism, they bring to the process their prejudices, dislikes, foibles, and fears – some they know about and others they could never identify.
The evaluator doesn’t “rule” on custody as a judge would. Rather, the evaluator carefully gathers and organizes information for the judge to use in making the ruling. That having been said, however, the evaluator’s report typically would clearly express a preference for one arrangement over the other (if not, the judge would be unhappy with the evaluator, and evaluators always want the judge to be happy with them so they’ll get more work).
How Can I Improve the Odds?
There’s actually relatively little you can do now to change the determination of a child custody evaluator. The most important advice I can offer is to be yourself. If you’re trying to present yourself in a way that’s not genuine, it will be all too apparent.
Beyond that, if the evaluator will be spending time in your residence, make sure it’s clean and orderly. Have a trusted friend walk through your residence with you and alert you to idiosyncrasies that might seem perfectly natural to you but might cause concern for others.
When you talk to the evaluator, be circumspect about the other parent. Even the other parent may seem evil to you, the impression you want to create is one of calm and stability, not of shrillness and panic.