What Does A Child Custody Evaluator Do? This Is What You Should Know

When faced with divorce and child custody issues you and your spouse have essentially two options: you can come to an agreement together about custody and visitation or you can let the court decide for you. Unfortunately, you may be perfectly willing to come to an equitable agreement when your spouse isn't. In those situations, the services of a child custody evaluator might be necessary. This is what you should know about child custody evaluators and how to handle the process.

What Does A Child Custody Evaluator Do?

Child custody evaluators are neutral parties that help determine what is in the best interest of the child -- which is the standard that courts use to determine custody issues. Depending on where you live, an evaluator may be a social worker, a psychologist, an attorney, or another person who has undergone some sort of training to do the job. Not all evaluators use the same methods to prepare their reports, but you can expect certain things:

  • home visits, to observe the child in his or her most natural setting

  • individual interviews with each parent

  • individual interviews with the child

  • a review of court documents

  • contact with teachers, babysitters, close family, doctors

  • psychological testing of you, your spouse, and your child

He or she will eventually prepare a report -- which tends to carry considerable weight with the judge. It will likely include a recommendation for custody and visitation. It can also outline therapy recommendations for you, your spouse, and your child. The evaluator can also recommend that you and your spouse attend parenting classes if he or she thinks that it is necessary.

What Doesn't An Evaluator Do?

It's important to note that a child custody evaluator is not there to serve as a therapist for either you or your spouse. The evaluator cannot offer you any advice about how to deal with the conflicts with your spouse, even regarding custody or parenting issues. Doing that would remove the evaluator's neutral status and make it difficult for him or her to remain impartial.

You also need to be mindful that nothing that you say to the evaluator is confidential, even if he or she is a licensed psychologist. He or she isn't your treating physician and is collecting information that will be turned over to the court eventually. Anything that you say to the evaluator is potentially discoverable by your spouse's attorney during cross-examination. If you don't want your spouse or the court to know something, do not tell the evaluator.

How Should You Handle Evaluation?

While you should always be honest with the evaluator -- because your credibility could be very damaged if you are caught in a lie -- it's important to discuss the evaluation with your attorney before it happens. Address any of your concerns with your attorney in advance. In addition, there are some important things to remember:

  • don't try to "make your case" with the evaluator -- explain why you prefer a certain custody arrangement over another when you are asked but don't belabor the point

  • don't say unnecessarily negative things about your spouse -- acknowledge your spouse's strengths and weaknesses as a parent as fairly as possible

  • don't try to sell yourself -- acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses as a parent as fairly as possible

  • don't coach your child to say anything or do anything -- allow your natural relationship with your child to show

  • don't be late or miss appointments and don't delay getting the evaluator anything that he or she needs for the process -- show your willingness to cooperate with the court.

To learn more, speak with someone like Margit M. Hicks, PA Attorney at Law.