Dr James Schaller
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The Basic Child Custody Evaluation

The General Structure (Part 2)

Evaluations differ based on many factors. An appointed evaluator of the court who works for the court will generally not have the time to meet your friends. If there are problems with abuse allegations, a desire to relocate or evidence one parent is severely undermining the other, then the evaluation will take much longer, and will require these issues be clarified.

Nevertheless, one sample of an evaluation is worth a glance.

First, the ""custody evaluation" is designed to determine the place the child shall live and how parenting duties and privileges will be shared. Often there is a preliminary set up, and then at a later time, a more permanent set up.

Second, if at all possible try to work out something with your co-parent. It is not always possible, but most couples never go to court for a trial, so it can definitely be done. Work with your lawyer to reflect on the law and the options. Be flexible in areas you can be flexible on. If you hate your family, and you feel her family does Christmas and New Years better, perhaps offer that carrot, if you love a Thanksgiving tradition or activity. Yet in all things, review them with your veteran attorney.

Custody evaluations can cost a couple hundred dollars to ten thousand dollars. Generally, a court evaluator is quite inexpensive and a PhD or MD who is a private evaluator will be much more money.

These evaluations typically take three to four months, and commonly have some of these parts.

  1. Both parents are interviewed alone for hours in divided sessions.
  2. Some time is spent with each parent together with your child.
  3. Some time is spent alone with each child.
  4. An interview of some type with the child's teacher or other caregiver(s), which can be by phone.
  5. Many evaluators want to see the home that will be available if a child comes to your house. It just needs to be safe, fairly clean and child friendly.
  6. An interview seeing how you and the children interact in your home (particularly with pre-adolescents).
  7. A review of the mental health records of each parent, including alcohol and drug dependency treatment records, and perhaps the medical records.
  8. Psychological testing may be requested, and is routinely used in complex cases of parental eccentric behavior, abuse or severe verbal attacks against the other parent.
  9. An addiction evaluation (by a MD addiction fellow or at least a CAC or certified addictions counselor).
  10. If the child has a therapist, both lawyers and the judge and both parents should agree before hand, these notes are fully off limits.
  11. School report cards
  12. If you have more than one child, a session in which all the children attend and their dynamic is seen is useful. In other words, how do they relate to each other?
  13. There is always some other data that needs to be gathered, so do not consider this list complete or in stone.
  14. Some evaluators believe a criminal background check should be done on each parent.

So Then What Happens?

The evaluator goes through all the material that has been presented over months, and tries to determine what is the best arrangement for your child. Typically, this will involve some significant time with each parent. Further, past practices or routines are taken into account. If the father was the one who always took the children to school, doctors appointments and did homework with them and put them to bed, and the mother held down a serious professional career, it might be suggested that this has worked in the past, and perhaps it should be continued.

If you would like a major change in the way roles were performed in the past, you should probably think your position through carefully, and be sure you are doing this for the children. If you love running a large company, why would you want to resign and suddenly spend 3-9 pm with your children? I am not saying you cannot do this, but just have a clear set of reasons for this change that are not based on bitterness or self-pity.

Since the evaluator will have spent massive amounts of time researching the lives of your child, the court will usually accept much of what is presented and suggested.

Once your lawyer has received a copy of the report, it is a good time to reconsider working out an arrangement with your co-parent if possible.

If you feel you want to fight the custody evaluation, you will need to work with your lawyer to think of a careful and full strategy promptly. Critical points are occasionally missed and the evaluation is not Gospel. But it will not be ignored easily.

I wish you much peace during this challenging time.


Dr. J

Bank Towers, Tamiami Trail, Naples, FL
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