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The Custody Evaluation Process

When a court is trying to determine which parent should have custody of a child, the judge may order a child custody evaluation. A professional child custody evaluator will attempt to determine what is in the best interests of the child, then write a custody evaluation report that is submitted to the judge. This report is designed to help the judge make better child custody and visitation decisions.

The evaluator is a neutral third party who typically has a background in psychiatry, psychology or social work. Evaluators are knowledgeable in the various aspects of child custody issues, including family dynamics, child development and child abuse. Custody evaluators frequently work with custody courts to help judges make more informed custody decisions.

What Does the Evaluator Look At?

The evaluator will conduct a thorough investigation into the relationships between each parent and the children. He or she will talk to both parents and the children. The evaluator will also watch how each child interacts with each parent. Evaluators may even conduct psychological testing of the parties involved.

The evaluator is looking at many factors, including:

  • The relationship between the parents and children
  • The developmental and educational needs of each child
  • The skills and capacity of each parent
  • The personal preferences of each child
  • Whether either parent has a history of child abuse or neglect
  • Each parent's work schedule and availability to care for the child
  • The parents' relationship with one another
  • The parenting style of each parent
  • Cultural issues that relate to parenting
  • Educational and religious plans for each child
  • The financial situation of each parent

Once the evaluator has gathered enough information, he or she will write a report that is submitted to the court. This report may include:

  • Recommendations for child custody and visitation
  • A suggested parenting plan
  • Therapy suggestions, if necessary
  • Parenting class suggestions, if necessary
  • A schedule for re-evaluating the situation, if necessary

How Is the Custody Evaluation Used?

The judge will review the custody evaluation and question the evaluator, if necessary. Each parent can also call the custody evaluator to the witness stand and question him or her under oath.

If you are unhappy with the evaluation, you can hire another independent child custody evaluator to reassess the situation, and submit that independent report to the judge. The judge will also consider this independent report when making his or her decision.

After the judge has had the opportunity to review the evaluation plan, hear the evaluator's testimony and consider any independent evaluations, he or she will make a final custody ruling. The evaluator's recommendations may be included in the final custody documents.