What You Need to Know About Child Custody Evaluations

Woman speaks to custody evaluator on couch during a home visit

Child custody evaluations are a very common process. Yet despite their common nature, it can still be a very nerve-racking ordeal for a parent to experience.

To combat those fears and make sure you’re adequately prepared for the process, parents should study the ins and outs of custody evaluations and their influence on child custody proceedings.

What is a child custody evaluation?

In general, a child custody evaluation is a process in which a mental health professional, typically a psychologist, evaluates you, your child, and your co-parent to make a recommendation to the court regarding custody and visitation.

The purpose of all custody evaluations is to ensure that the needs of children are being met as best as possible. This assessment requires the psychologist to pay particular attention to the skills and deficits of parenting attributes in tandem with the psychological needs of the child.

When are custody evaluations performed?

The most common reason for a child custody evaluation being performed is if parents are unable to work together to decide on the details of their custody agreement.

The other common reason for a custody evaluation is when one or both co-parents believe that their current custody agreement does not meet the needs of their child or children.

In both cases, the judge presiding over the case will order a custody evaluation to give the parents and the court recommendations for the best parenting arrangements. Parents can also consent to or request a custody evaluation. However, parents should always consult a legal professional about this option before pursuing.

Preparing for a child custody evaluation

Undergoing a child custody evaluation is very stressful for most co-parents. Even if you are an exceptional parent to your child, your nervousness may affect your actions during an evaluation. To prevent that from happening, here are some tips to reduce your stress during this process:

  • Be cooperative with the evaluator. Even though you may oppose the child custody evaluation, it is important to cooperate so that the evaluator does not get the wrong impression.
  • Many co-parents believe it is helpful to treat this process like a job interview. Dress appropriately and aim to be punctual, honest and confident.
  • Be prepared and organized beforehand. It is likely that your evaluator will request your case documents at some point during the evaluation.
  • Make sure that you are holding the best interest of your child above all else. Showing that you make your child a priority over other things is the most important for scoring well in your evaluation.
  • Consult your attorney about compiling a list of referral questions. Child custody evaluators have a general obligation to make recommendations in the best interests of the child, but the vastness of that task can mean specific concerns may be lost in the shuffle. If there are specific areas to which the evaluator should pay particular attention, referral questions can help ensure those concerns are addressed.

The child custody evaluation process

It is important to fully understand that the mental health professional observing you and your family is simply trying to determine what would be in the best interest of your child. In order for the professional to make this determination they will typically follow a procedure similar to the following guidelines:

  • They will conduct multiple interviews with each co-parent separately.
  • They will conduct multiple interviews with the child involved in the case.
  • They will observe each co-parent as they interact with the child, either at the office or in the home setting.
  • They may conduct interviews with others involved with the family such as teachers, health care providers, and so on.
  • They may choose to perform psychological testing on anyone in the family.
  • They will also review previous court and legal activity regarding the divorce and custody case.

Based on the information that is gathered from these observations, the evaluator will generate a report to pass along to the judge hearing the case. This report will include all of their findings and recommendations regarding how custody should be awarded.