When parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan in a divorce or suit affecting the parent-child relationship, the court will intervene. Some courts order a child custody evaluation by a mental health professional or social worker before deciding on how to award parenting time. But what is involved in a child custody evaluation?
A custody evaluation previously was called a “social study.” It involves a court-appointed expert who meets with and interviews the parties, meets with and interviews the children, investigates the situation, does background checks and CPS record checks on the parties, reviews other information provided by the parties and/or their attorneys and then writes a report that is given to the judge. The report includes the evaluator’s recommendations to the court about conservatorship and possession (custody and visitation). Sometimes, this process is very lengthy, particularly if a psychological evaluation is required to be done.
Some judges rely heavily on the evaluator’s report. Others don’t order child custody evaluations because they believe that the attorneys can provide the same evidence to the Judge without the time and expense of a custody evaluation.
How to Prepare for a Custody Evaluation
The best preparation for the evaluation is to consult with your attorney. It is important that you present yourself in the best light to the evaluator, which means you are polite, organized, responsive and cooperative throughout the evaluation. Be sure to give your answers to the questionnaire or initial paperwork to your attorney for review before you turn it in.
How Your Attorney Helps You with the Custody Evaluation Report
Because of the potential damage a negative child custody evaluation can do, or if a child has expressed a desire to live with the other parent, your attorney will use caution in sharing the report with you. Often, the evaluator’s recommendations are used as a basis for negotiating in mediation or other settlement conference.
If you still have controversy after settlement efforts, and the case must go to trial, your attorney will suggest ways to counteract a negative child custody evaluation such as consulting with another mental health expert to identify the weaknesses of the report to use in cross-examination of the evaluator.
For More Information About Divorce, Contact an Experienced Dallas Family Law Attorney