How to Prepare for a Child Custody Evaluation
A child custody evaluation is often needed when establishing custody in a contested/contentious case following a divorce or break up. The role of the child custody evaluator is to determine the best interest of the child and to determine which parent maintains the best home environment in support of the children and how much time the visiting parent should have for each visitation period. A child custody evaluator will take into consideration all details of the child’s living, care, supervision, school, and extracurricular activities in assessing the custody situation. Furthermore, an evaluator will take into consideration who has primarily cared for the child prior to the separation and other factors that may impact the children; such as, the primary parents schedule, formal education, employment, work schedule etc. Prior to the interaction with the child custody evaluator the parents of the child should prepare for a child custody evaluation by taking steps to ensure that the process goes smoothly and that you have a positive and efficient effect in the overall process.
Prior to initiating the child custody evaluation it is highly recommended to consult a Georgia attorney or other legal professional with experience in divorce and family law. An attorney will indicate to you the most important points to discuss with the evaluator and which topics should be left out of the conversation. Furthermore, your attorney may also make suggestions on how to go about conversations with the child custody evaluator and which settings may be appropriate for initial contact and following home studies. It is the primary goal of the child custody evaluator to remain neutral in evaluating each particular case – and therefore it is highly un-recommended that you waste time during the evaluation trying to persuade the evaluator to side with you in your case. Follow all advice that is provided by your attorney or other law professional. Lastly, be sure to remain focused on the goals at hand and not get distracted by external emotional factors primarily concerning your relationship with the other parent.
Mention both your strengths and weaknesses to the evaluator – It is just as important to be prepared to discuss your weaknesses with the evaluator as it is to discuss your perceived strengths. An evaluator will weigh the strengths against the weaknesses in the evaluation process, but more importantly the evaluator will perceive you as non-genuine if you fail to provide any weakness. The evaluator will also compare the weaknesses attributed by the other parent in your parenting to the weaknesses you personally attribute to yourself.
Be honest in answering questions posed by the evaluator – Answer all questions asked by the evaluator as thoroughly as possible and to the best of your knowledge. Identified false information can be used by the evaluator against you in an evaluators report labeling you as intentionally deceptive. Don’t use the questions posed by the evaluator to manipulate the questions to address other issues you wish to discuss—don’t treat questions as a spring board to discuss your position in the case.
Use thoughtful communication – Mention your support for the process and your realization that the child may benefit from the positive relationship with the other parent; as well as, your relationship with the child.
Plan and prepare – Have pre-prepared outlines on different parenting plan options that you believe will be in the best interest of the child. This should include your different perceptions of custody and all child visitation arrangements and you may discuss your preference of one plan over another. Try to not repeat one issue repeatedly over other concerns as this will appear unbalanced, make it appear that ulterior motives may be at stake, and can place time constraints on other topics that may be of more importance to the evaluators judgment process.
Maintain your focus on the best interest standard – All discussions with the evaluator should be concerning the child or children and all of your perceptions concerning parenting, co-parenting, visitation, and custody should be maintained with the intent to identify which actions function in the best interest of the child.
Promptly provide follow up information’s or responses to request for meetings for information – It is not uncommon for the custody evaluator to ask for information similar to the information’s provided in discovery and interrogatories in your case. Prior to initiating the evaluation process it is important to have this information handy so that you can provide the information requested as soon as possible. This information can be provided straight from your attorney to the evaluator or can be provided by you during the subsequent meetings or by mail. Examples of information generally requested include employment verification, medical information, and or your child’s school and medical information’s.
Don’t use the child custody evaluation to attack the other parent – refrain from negative remarks about the other parent or attempting to joke about the other parent’s short comings. You will be asked about the other parent’s strengths and weaknesses in their parenting and you should make the responses to these questions as matter of fact as possible. If there are serious issues regarding the other parents care for the child then it is necessary to communicate these concerns, but your statements should present legitimate concerns, supported by evidence, and should not be included with other statements attacking the other parent’s character.
Do not ask for the custody evaluator for court related actions outside of the scope of the evaluation – The role of the evaluator in the process is to provide recommendations to the court and act as a neutral actor between the parties to identify related concerns. Do not ask for the custody evaluator to provide or recommend external services; such as, therapy for yourself or to provide other court related services.
Do not coach your kids about what to say or do – A custody evaluator has large amounts of experience in evaluating child custody cases and will be able to quickly identify if they believe that the children have been coached by either parent. However, you are permitted to tell your children about the process in an age appropriate way, how the process may go, and the importance of answering all questions asked by the evaluator truthfully.
Do not miss appointments with the child custody evaluator or arrive late to appointments – A good standard practice is to arrive at least 15 minutes early to appointments and to inform the evaluator of cancelations of appointments with at least 72 hours’ notice. Evaluation appointments should be scheduled and should not happen at random. Initial appointments may take place at a neutral location or at your attorney’s office; however, it is generally necessary for the evaluator to interview the children or view the children in both parents care and in the home environment. Your interview addressing the child’s concerns may need to take place away from the children if the conversation may address controversial issues that should not take place in front of the children or may upset the children.
Do not willfully disobey child custody orders that are currently in place during the pending evaluation – It is not uncommon for temporary court orders to be in place prior to the finalization of the evaluation process. Violations of these temporary orders still constitute as a contempt of court order and willful contempt related actions may negatively impact the evaluator’s perception of you during the evaluation process.
During your child custody evaluation your aim should be to provide a good but accurate impression of yourself and your family. This impression should also be reflected about your home and family interactions within the household –especially during the children’s interview in the home. The home interview should provide an accurate snapshot of the typical activities within the home and the general cleanliness within the home. During the evaluation the evaluator may decide to check all areas or rooms within the home including the laundry room, refrigerator, the children’s cubbies, and bathrooms. You should have the children’s school bag and current school work readily available during the meeting as the evaluator may ask to review these items. You may wish to display some of the child’s school work, photos, and art work as general displayed in the home. Furthermore, the children should be provided a typical activity for the day during the interview in the home which should reflect your involvement and interaction with the children. For example the children may be working on a group activity, art project with you, interacting in a board game, or other organized activities as opposed to being isolated in video game play or simply watching television. If you have any concerns during the interviews or custody evaluation process it is important to communicate this concern with an attorney and seek to implement any advice recommended as a result of your communication with an attorney.
If you are facing a child custody issue, call us at 770-408-0477 to speak with an experienced child custody, divorce and family law attorney now.