You are separated or separating from your spouse and you believe that the issues regarding custody of your child or children will be highly contested. You have heard that something called a “custody evaluation” is sometimes used in cases where custody is contested. You wonder:
- What is a custody evaluation?
- Would a custody evaluation be beneficial in my case?
To answer the first question, a custody evaluation is a neutral, objective assessment of all of the factors relevant to “the best interests of the child or children” by a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker (“LCSW”.) The custody evaluator may be selected by the court or mutually-agreed upon by the parents. All of the details about how the evaluation will be conducted may be spelled out in a court order or resolved in an agreement between the parties.
Here are some reasons why you might decide to seek to utilize a custody evaluation in your unique situation:
- If your spouse has addiction or mental health issues. If this is the case, the neutral custody evaluator will be invaluable both in assessing the nature and extent of the issues, and in establishing the nexus between the issues and the parenting capacity of your spouse. Because these types of issues are complex and may be inter-related with other factors relevant to custody of minor children, the evaluator’s testimony as to his or her conclusions and the basis for those conclusions will likely be of great assistance to the court.
- The custody evaluation process can be protective of your children. When a neutral evaluator is in place, he or she can talk directly to your children so that they need not be interviewed by the judge. In addition, the neutral professional may make recommendations that are helpful in keeping your children from feeling caught “in the middle.” For example, he or she may recommend individual therapy for the children.
- Evidentiary advantages. Because the custody evaluator will, in general, be qualified by the court as an “expert,” he or she will not be bound by some of the most tricky evidentiary restrictions, such as the non-admissibility of “hearsay” evidence. Thus, the evaluator can tell the judge what the children expressed to him or her, or what the opposing party revealed in statements during the evaluation.
- An effective tool. Often, the results of a custody evaluation can be a very effective tool in laying out for the court all of the myriad specifics that relate to your children’s best interests. If the evaluation is thorough and in accordance with the relevant professional standards, then it is likely that the judge hearing the case will persuaded by and will rely upon the evaluator’s recommendations.
If you are anticipating a contested custody case, work closely with your attorney to weigh the pros and cons, and then to make a decision as to whether a custody evaluation would be appropriate and beneficial in your case.