How a Child Custody Evaluation Works and How to Prepare for One
When parents divorce most will attempt, perhaps with the help of an attorney, to come to a mutual agreement on how to arrange custody of their children. In cases where there is agreement, a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule is submitted to the court. A peaceful agreement that meets the needs of all involved truly is the best outcome, and parents should make every effort to make that happen. But in many divorces, the parents simply cannot come to an understanding about what is best for their children, and custody is contested. Contesting custody can be very expensive and take months to bring to court.
When child custody is contested in a Florida divorce, a qualified evaluator, usually a psychologist, may either assigned by the court or selected by agreement between the parents with the help of their attorneys. This evaluator is paid by the parties and can be very expensive. The evaluator’s duty is to help the court determine the child’s best interest, which is the primary legal concern in all matters having to do with children in Florida divorces. Because the evaluator works for the court, and not for the individuals involved, nothing the parties divulge to an evaluator psychologist is subject to doctor-patient privilege. Of course, everything you say to your family law attorney is strictly confidential.
A typical custody evaluation includes: two to three interviews with each parent and each child; observation of interaction between parents and children in the evaluator’s office and potentially in the home; psychological testing as necessary; and interviews with third parties including teachers, day care providers, and pediatricians. Custody evaluators look for indications of the quality of parent-child relationships, including bonding, ability to get along, parenting skills, signs of alcohol or drug abuse, and the physical and mental health of the child.
When you are with the custody evaluator, treat it like a job interview. Be punctual with your appointments and put your best face forward. Be sincere and honest and avoid sounding defensive when answering questions. When you are asked about your spouse, stick to the facts.
When it is time for your children to be interviewed, explain to them that they will never be asked to choose between parents and everyone involved is working together to figure out the best parenting schedule. Use your judgment with respect to the child’s age to determine how much explanation and detail is prudent. Avoid the temptation to coach them on how to answer questions, which would reflect very badly on you if the evaluator found out.
If you are in a divorce in which child custody is contested, an experienced divorce attorney is invaluable in helping you prepare for a child custody evaluation. Legal representation protects your interests.