A very wise man once said, “Money is a litmus test.”
In Utah divorces that include child custody evaluations, this saying couldn’t be truer.
A custody evaluation is necessary when people can’t agree on custody and parent-time. In situations like this, the court wants an expert to weigh in on things, and that’s what a custody evaluator does.
In essence, a Utah custody evaluator comes in, interviews the kids and parents, examines how parents interact with their kids, looks at how everyone acts at home together, gets grade reports, looks at criminal background histories, and makes a determination about custody and parent-time.
(The process is actually much more involved than what I’ve described.)
Everyone wants a custody evaluation when they can’t agree, until they hear the price tag, that is. Custody evaluators in Utah costs around $5000 to $10,000.
That price is the litmus test.
When we discuss custody evaluations with our clients, we always address the same question: “Who pays the custody evaluator’s costs?”
Here are the rules of thumb when we answer this question:
- If it’s a divorce, then the parents will split the cost 50-50.
If parents are getting divorced, can’t agree in mediation to custody, and need a custody evaluation, the court will most likely make everyone share costs 50-50.
A major exception to this is when one parent makes way more money than the other one. So, if you’re a doctor and make $300,000 per year, and your husband stays home with the kids, you (doctor) will probably pick up the bill.
This doesn’t happen very often, though. It’s much, much more likely parents will share costs 50-50.
- If it’s a modification of a divorce decree, then the person asking to change custody will pay 100% of the costs.
If you want to modify your divorce decree and change custody, then you will likely pay 100% of the custody evaluator costs.
Actually, the court will make you pay the costs upfront and “reserve” for trial final allocation of those costs. (This means at trial the judge could reallocate the costs to 50-50 or something similar.) In reality, reallocation almost never happens, so you have to be prepare to foot the entire evaluation bill if you want to modify child custody and parent-time.
Our rules of thumb are general rules. Things might always work out differently depending on a particular situation.
For example, if a guardian ad litem is involved and recommends parents share costs because one parent has been playing dirty tricks with custody and parent-time, you better believe the court is going to listen to the guardian ad litem.
Sometimes, a commissioner will order parents to share custody evaluator costs according to how much money they make. So, if you make $50,000 per year, and your spouse makes $25,000 per year, you would pay 2/3 of all costs and your spouse would pay 1/3.
Make Sure You Pay the Custody Evaluator — Now!
Final word on this subject: make sure you pay the custody evaluator — now!
If you don’t pay the evaluator, the court can fine you and dismiss your case. In other words, you could lose your entire case by not paying the custody evaluator.
Like I said: money is a litmus test. Make sure you pass the test.