How to Handle a Custody Evaluation

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Do I Need to Prepare for a Custody Evaluation?

Yes. Custody evaluations are expensive, thorough, and carry serious consequences. Understanding the process and knowing the best way to conduct oneself during each step can drastically improve the chances of being awarded favorable child custody or visitation rights.

How Can I Prepare for a Custody Evaluation?

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

To best prepare for your evaluation, a good first step would be to contact the person or agency who is conducting it to find out the exact process and procedure.

How Do I Handle Each Step of the Custody Evaluation?

Below is a layout of the general steps involved in custody evaluations, and things parents may wish to consider.

1) Parental History Survey

The parental history survey is essentially a long questionnaire that covers all aspects of marriage, separation, divorce, and other information that may be useful in determining parenting ability. Each parent should answer the questions honestly, and support answers with facts. When permitted, parents should go beyond 'yes' or 'no' answers and elaborate with short explanations. Whenever possible, typing answers is one easy way to make a good first impression.

2) Personal Interviews

During this step, parents will be interviewed by a trained evaluator who is usually a psychologist. The interview typically lasts a couple of hours.  

Before the interview, parents should prepare any documents that may show their ex-spouse's faults. Things like financial records, notes, pictures and documents of criminal behavior can all be used to give credibility and weight to an interview. However, it is important to only provide useful and relevant documents, as offering irrelevant and inflammatory documents can make that spouse appear vindictive.  

Additionally, it is not uncommon for the interview to be recorded.   

During the interview, a parent should:

During the Interview, a parent should NOT:

3) Psychological Testing

Parents will likely be asked to take a psychological or personality test as part of the custody evaluation. The MMPI (Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory) is an example of a commonly used test. 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" the test. Attempting to show yourself in a good light, perhaps by selecting the answers that the person believes will make them look like a good parent, is a bad idea. These tests are designed to expose inconsistency and dishonesty. The best way to test is to relax and answer the questions quickly and honestly.

4) Observed Parent/Child Interaction

Each parent will be asked to interact with their child while under the observation of a trained professional. Parents should attempt to play normally with their child. Moreover, this type of experience is stressful for children, so parents should try and make them feel as comfortable as possible. Play, talk, have fun - but most importantly, don't try to "fake-it." It will show.  

5) Collateral Contact Interviews

This is considered 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.

6) Follow-up Interviews

This is the last chance to make a good impression on an evaluator. More importantly, it is also an opportunity to respond to allegations made by the other party. Again, as always, honesty is key. If the ex-spouse has made false allegations, calmly deny them and clarify. Follow-up interviews are also each parent's last chance to provide the evaluator with any additional information or documentation that is favorable to their position.

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 quickly as possible. Your attorney will guide you through the custody evaluation process and can help you make a favorable impression on the court and evaluators. 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 04:21 PM PDT

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