Child custody issues can be among the most contentious in divorce proceedings. More than the division of property and debt, issues that concern your children can evoke strong emotional responses and behavior. If you have a good relationship with your spouse, working out child custody, visitation and child support issues outside of court can make for a smoother, quicker and less expensive divorce proceeding. Many times, however, parents cannot come to an agreement and must rely on the family court judge to make these important decisions. When this occurs, judges turn to professionals who specialize in interviewing children and parents to help determine parenting decisions. If you are facing a child custody evaluation, read on to learn helpful information.
Who is the evaluator?
They are almost always mental health professionals, such as social workers, licensed mental health counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists. Most states require that these evaluators have special certifications or training in this area. In some states evaluators are referred to as guardian ad litem.
Judges often present parents with a list of court-approved evaluators from which to choose. It's important understand that these evaluations must be paid for by the parents and they are quite expensive. Fees can vary from location to location, but you can expect to pay from $2,000.00 up to $6,000.00 for an evaluation. With the cost in mind, you and your partner may want to try to work out your custody arrangements outside of court.
What happens at an evaluation?
The evaluator will interview both you, your child, and your spouse several times. Evaluators can gain valuable insights by observing the interactions between parent and child. Expect at least some of the interviews to be one-on-one with your child only however.
Many times the interviews will extend to school personnel, close family members, doctors and even close friends and neighbors. If the evaluator needs more precise, detailed information they may request a full psychological work up, consisting of psychological tests on the child and sometimes on the parents as well. This type of testing usually involves another professional, since it is another very specialized field.
What should you do?
It should come as no surprise that putting parents and children in this stressful situation can be nerve-wracking to all concerned. Your ability to be a good parent is in question, so the stakes are very high. During this process it's vital that you keep in close contact with a child custody attorney and alert him immediately if you sense that anything is amiss. For example, if you perceive an unfair bias against you during the evaluation, your attorney can take actions to request a different evaluator. Don't wait until the report has been presented to the judge to complain.
Contested child custody cases require the skills of an experienced family law attorney. Contact a legal professional who will work to ensure that a fair ruling is handed down for you and your children.