Nearly every issue in some relationships can become subject to a judge's decision when that couple divorces, and chief among the most contentious has to be who gets custody of a minor child. When warring parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, the judge may need to call for the support of a professional skilled in viewing parent-child dynamics to assist the judge in making custody decisions. If you are experiencing a problematic child custody situation with your divorce, read on to learn what you need to know about child custody evaluations.
Who will be conducting the evaluation?
Normally, these evaluations are done by mental health experts with special court-approved credentials in interviewing parents and children. They can be social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, or licensed mental health therapists. Usually, the judge will allow the parents to choose an evaluation expert from a list of approved providers, but take note that these evaluations are expensive and the cost must be borne by the parents themselves. Depending on where you live, you can expect to pay from $2,000 up to $6,000 for a series of interviews and sometimes psychological tests of both the child and both parents. When faced with this expense, some parents may wish to reevaluate their inability to come to a workable child custody agreement on their own.
What will happen at the evaluation?
You should expect the evaluation expert to conduct several interview sessions: with your child alone, with you alone, with your spouse alone, with you and your child, and with your spouse and the child. The evaluation expert will use age-appropriate techniques to learn more about how your child views each parent and will also observe how each parent interacts with the child in play situations. Occasionally, the evaluation will go beyond the family group to include school personnel, the pediatrician, close friends and relatives, and even neighbors.
How to handle yourself during this evaluation.
When you consider that your parental fitness is being judged by a virtual stranger, you can only imagine how stressful this process can be on the parents. The stakes could not be higher, since your ability to be awarded custody of your child is in play. Don't allow the stress of the situation to rattle you during the evaluation; stay positive and trust that your relationship with your child will prove that you are a fit parent. A word of warning, given the high stakes—make sure that you stay in close contact with your attorney and alert them immediately if you perceive bias on the part of the evaluator or if the evaluation is not going well. You may be able to request a change in experts if you take action before the evaluation is complete.
Speak to a child custody or divorce attorney from a firm like Bray & Johnson Law Firm for more support during a contested custody situation.