Regarding: Explanation of Custody Evaluation
This is a form letter explaining the custody evaluation process. Since this is a form letter, it is a general explanation of the process and not specific to your case. If you would like greater explanation regarding a custody evaluation in your case, please, feel free to call us and ask any questions you may have. We will be happy to speak with you.
Custody evaluations are evaluations made by a trained mental health professional (usually a psychologist) that provide the Court with information about child custody and parent-time so that it can make decisions regarding those matters. This is done by evaluating the parties’ ability to parent, the developmental, emotional, and physical needs of the child(ren), and the fit between each party and child(ren).
Unless otherwise specified in the order appointing the custody evaluator, the evaluator will consider and respond to the following factors:
- the child’s preference;
- the benefit of keeping siblings together;
- the strength of the child’s bond with the parties;
- continuing previously determined custody arrangements in which the child is happy and well adjusted;
- the parties’ character, status and their capacity and willingness to function as parents, including:
- moral character and emotional stability;
- duration and depth of desire for custody;
- ability to provide personal rather than surrogate care;
- significant impairment of ability to function as a parent through drug abuse, excessive drinking or other causes;
- reasons for having relinquished custody in the past;
- religious compatibility with the child;
- kinship, including in extraordinary circumstances stepparent status;
- financial condition;
- evidence of abuse of the subject child, another child, or spouse; and
- any other factors deemed important by the evaluator, the parties, or the Court.
Parties can agree to appoint a custody evaluator and begin the custody evaluation process. If parties cannot agree on an evaluator, or cannot agree that a custody evaluation is necessary, then someone has to ask the Court to Order a custody evaluation and appoint a custody evaluator. This is done through a Motion to Appoint a Custody Evaluator. If the Court grants the Motion (and it very often does), then the parties will have a certain number of days (usually thirty) to pay the evaluator’s retainer and begin the custody evaluation process.
Custody evaluators cost anywhere between $4000 to $10,000. The initial retainer is usually in the neighborhood of $2500. This means to begin the process, you would have to pay around $1250 to the evaluator directly.
Custody evaluations usually take between four to six months to complete, although sometimes they do take longer depending on the evaluator’s schedule and workload.
The evaluator will interview you individually and listen to your concerns about your child(ren) and your ex- or soon-to-ex spouse. He or she will observe you with your child(ren) and very likely visit you in your home. All pleadings mailed the evaluator will be reviewed in full. If the case involves new spouses or new significant others, the evaluator will likely meet with them as well. You will likely undergo some psychological testing as part of the process. The evaluator will also review criminal histories, drug histories, psychological and counseling histories, medical histories, etc. (You will need to sign releases so the evaluator can access these histories). It is a very thorough and invasive process.
After the evaluator has finished finalized his or her findings and recommendations, we will receive those recommendations orally. (If a written report is necessary, an additional fee applies.) After receiving the recommendations orally, we will schedule what is common called a “4-903 Conference.” This is a conference between the parties, the Commissioner, the custody evaluator, and a mediator. During this conference, the evaluator reiterates his or her recommendations, and then the parties engage in mediation to see if they can settle the case without the need of a trial.
As you can tell, custody evaluations are very important. Quite often, judges will closely follow the evaluator’s recommendations. This means child-custody cases are often won or lost based on the custody evaluation. This is why we take them seriously, choose top-quality custody evaluators, and prepare for evaluations.
Hopefully, this letter has helped explain the custody evaluation process. Again, if you have any questions regarding your case, please call.
/s/ Marco Brown