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Custody Evaluations

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What is a Child 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 some other event in which the parent’s ability to raise their children is drawn into question.

A custody evaluation generally involves:

  • Interviews with parents and children by trained evaluators;
  • Psychological testing of the parents; and
  • Requires "collateral contacts" to be interviewed.

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:

  • Family friends;
  • Teachers;
  • Day care providers;
  • Employers;
  • Health providers; and
  • Marriage counselors.

These interviews often are the most important part of the evaluation and can reveal behavioral patterns that can help them determine who should have custody over the children. Infidelity, drug use, physical abuse, mental cruelty, emotional abuse, and financial manipulation are all behaviors that could cause the evaluator to declare a parent unfit for child custody.

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, ranging anywhere from $1,200 - $15,000. The cost is often split between the parents, but the court has the power to assign the costs according to what justice demands. Understanding this service may not be a plausible option for everyone, courts may offer some lower cost alternatives.  

However, voluntarily offering to pay for the entire custody evaluation may have some advantages. 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, the party paying for the evaluation will have the ability to more freely choose their interview schedule.

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.

Photo of page author John Kirby

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-23-2018 08:54 PM PDT

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