Custody Evaluations

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What Is a Custody Evaluation?

A custody evaluation, sometimes called a "parenting evaluation," is a formal court-ordered investigation of a parent that attempts to determine who is best suited to care for minor children. A custody evaluation is typically done at the request of one of the parties during a divorce, although it may also be court ordered in the event of child neglect, an arrest for a drug crime, an investigation by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), or other similar event where a parent's fitness is called into question.

A custody evaluation generally involves:

The evaluation will provide the court with evidence from which to make a custody decision.

What Is a "Collateral Contact" and Why Are They Important?

A collateral contact is anyone who knows the two spouses and can provide the evaluator with information about personal characteristics and parenting abilities. A collateral contact can be almost anyone including:

Due to perceived bias, family members often do not make good collateral contacts.  

Collateral contacts are often among the most important part of a custody evaluation. Through interviews with collateral contacts, an evaluator can discover if either spouse has behavioral patterns that make them unsuitable parents. Things like infidelity, drug use, physical abuse, mental cruelty and financial manipulation can all be discovered through these interviews. Thus, collateral contacts allow otherwise unforeseen behavior to be brought into consideration.

What Is the Typical Process for a Custody Evaluation?

Most custody evaluations follow this general process:

  1. Court orders a custody evaluation
  2. Parental history survey
  3. Interviews with parents and children
  4. Psychological testing (such as the MMPI)
  5. Observation of parent/child interactions
  6. Collateral Contact interviews
  7. Follow-up interviews

Who Pays for a Custody Evaluation?

Custody evaluations are expensive, generally ranging from $1,800 - $6,000. Courts usually assign this cost to the divorcing parents. Understanding this service may not be a plausible option for everyone, courts may offer some lower cost alternatives.  

However, if there is a fight for the custody of children, there are some advantages to offering to pay for the entire custody evaluation. First, it shows the court that the person is serious about securing the right result for their children. Second, the person paying may be able to choose who conducts the evaluation. Finally, because they are paying for and setting up the interviews, they will generally be able to pick their interview time.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Getting custody of your children is one of the most important battles you will ever fight.  If you are in a custody dispute, you should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will guide you through the custody evaluation process and can help you make a favorable impression on the court. Your attorney will be familiar with your state's procedures for establishing child custody and visitation arrangements and can help protect your relationship with your child.

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Last Modified: 07-11-2014 02:21 PM PDT

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