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Child Custody FAQ
When parents or guardians divorce and are unable to amicably resolve disagreements on their own or with the help of a mediator, a trial will occur and a judge will decide the outcome. Often, the court will rely on a child custody evaluation by a mental health professional to assist in reaching an outcome that is in the best interest of the child.
In cases where parental or guardianship disputes occur after the initial divorce has been finalized, child custody evaluations can also be beneficial in providing an unbiased opinion about parenting qualities and the psychological well-being of the child.
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Child Custody Evaluation Frequently Asked Questions
What is involved in a child custody evaluation?
A Child Custody Evaluation is an assessment that aims to gather information about:
- The Unique needs of each child
- Parents’ or guardians’ capacity to meet the child’s needs.
- The family’s history, current supports, and future needs.
The ultimate goal is to identify strengths and weaknesses of each parent or guardian and provide information on what would be in the child’s best interest.
The purpose of a child custody evaluation is not to blame one parent or guardian for causing the divorce or prove that one is better than another – but rather to provide impartial, helpful information that can help ensure children’s needs are met by the divorcing parents or guardians.
What does a custody evaluation entail?
A child custody evaluation will likely involve a significant amount of information gathering, which may include, but is not limited to:
- Interview with each parent or guardian alone
- Interview of each parent or guardian with the children
- Interviews with other important figures in a child’s life
- Review of medical records, school records
Information gathering will allow the custody evaluator to get a comprehensive understanding of the family dynamics and an appreciation of the culture.
It is important that both parents or guardians are involved in the assessment. Interviewing each parent or guardian alone allows the evaluator to hear each parent’s or guardian’s perspective and concerns they may have about the other parent or guardian. It is important to interview both parents and guardians together when possible, to evaluate their ability to work together in the interest of the children.
Teachers, coaches, stepparents, domestic partners and other important figures in a child’s life can also provide a better understanding of the child’s needs.
School records, health records, and any family legal records can provide helpful insight into the family as well.
Parental questionnaires and psychological testing can also help provide information about a parent or guardian’s emotional well-being. Testing should be done by a qualified Psychologist.
Who performs custody evaluations?
Custody evaluators are mental health professionals who have completed higher education that certifies them as a specialist in psychological matters. Often, custody evaluations are done by a:
- child psychiatrist
- child psychologist
- licensed social worker
What should a parent or guardian do to prepare for the evaluation?
- Gather school records, medical records, and other helpful paperwork for the evaluator to access.
- Cooperate with the interview, keep scheduled appointments, and be honest with responses
- Relax — this will allow the evaluator to get a better perspective of who the parent or guardian truly is. It can be helpful to remind oneself that this expert is working to figure out the best interest of the children.
Will the children be evaluated?
Custody evaluators regularly interview and observe children. It is best if this is done in a comfortable and non-threatening environment. The evaluator understands that children may be experiencing a range of feelings about the divorce. Depending upon the ages of the children, the evaluator may have the children participate in structured play, draw pictures or tell stories in order to express their feelings.
What will the evaluator do with the information collected?
Usually, custody evaluators will be asked to prepare a written report to document their findings. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide a comprehensive overview of the family’s needs and how they can best be addressed. If the case goes to trial, the evaluator may be asked to present findings to court.
If the case goes to trial, the judge or the lawyers may ask the evaluator to be present to explain the report and these findings.