How to Handle a Custody Evaluation

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Do I Need to Prepare for a Custody Evaluation?

Yes.  If you are facing a custody evaluation, you should take steps to ensure that you put your best foot forward.  By understanding the evaluation process and knowing how to act during each step, you can improve your chances of being awarded child custody or visitation rights.

How Can I Prepare for a Custody Evaluation?

In order to prepare for a custody evaluation you need to understand the evaluation process itself.  Generally, a custody evaluation will include the following steps:

To best prepare for your evaluation, you should contact the person or agency who is conducting it to find out exactly what process and procedures will be used.

How Do I Handle Each Step of the Custody Evaluation? 

Parental History Survey

The parental history survey is a long questionnaire (typically over 100 questions) which covers your marriage, separation, divorce, and other information that may be useful in determining what kind of parent you have been.  You should answer the questions honestly, and support your answers with facts.  You should go beyond yes or no answers and elaborate with short explanations.  Make sure you proof read your answers.  Whenever possible, type your answers.  You want to submit a questionnaire that makes a good first impression.

Personal Interviews

During this step you will be interviewed by a trained evaluator who is usually a psychologist.  The interview typically lasts between 1 and 2 hours.  

Before the interview, you should prepare any documentation that you have which can be used to show your ex-spouse's faults.  Things like financial records, notes you make of conversations with your ex, and documentation of any criminal behavior can all be used to give credibility to your statements about your ex.  However, be careful to only provide useful and relevant documents.  

Be aware that you may be asked to sign a waiver allowing the interview to be video taped.   
During the interview you should:

During the Interview you should NOT:

Psychological Testing

You will probably be asked to take a psychological or personality test as part of the custody evaluation.  Often the MMPI (Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory) test is used.  There are also other tests that have been specifically developed for custody evaluations.  These tests are designed to provide an objective measure of personality.  It is VERY important to be honest when taking this test. Due to the test's design, it is nearly impossible to "cheat" on.  Attempting to show yourself in a good light (by selecting the answers you think will make you look like a good parent) is a bad idea.  These tests will expose your dishonesty every time.  Just relax and answer the questions quickly and honestly without thinking about what the "correct" answer is.

Observed Parent/Child Interaction

You will be asked to interact with your child while under the observation of the custody evaluator.  You should attempt to play normally with your child.  You should try and make them feel comfortable as they may be nervous.  Play, talk, and have fun with your child.  If you try and "fake-it", it will show.  

Collateral Contact Interviews

This is one of the most important steps in the process.  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, it is important to choose good collateral contacts.  You should select those who can vouch for your character and parenting abilities as well as those who can attest to your ex's faults and negative behaviors.

Follow-up Interviews

This is your last chance to make a good impression on an evaluator.  It is also your chance to respond to allegations made by your ex.  Again, be honest.  If your ex has made false allegations, deny them but stay calm.  Follow-up interviews are also your last chance to provide the evaluator with any additional information or documentation that is favorable to your side.

Do I Need a Lawyer for my Custody Evaluation?

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.  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: 06-30-2010 03:17 PM PDT

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