Custody and Parenting Time Evaluations
A custody evaluation (sometimes called a custody and parenting time evaluation) is an assessment by a person with expertise in child development, family systems, chemical dependency, mental health, domestic abuse and other knowledge related to a child custody or parenting time decision. Typically this person is a mental health practitioner or an attorney.
The process is both intrusive and expensive. During the course of the evaluation the evaluator is expected to gather data from the parties and from professional collateral sources like therapists; medical doctors; teachers; and clergy. The evaluator will also gather information from lay collateral sources which generally include friends and family. The evaluator will gather documents like therapy records, medical records, school records, psychological evaluations and criminal records.
In addition, it is not unusual for the custody evaluator to seek input from specific professionals for their expertise. For example, a custody evaluator could require psychological evaluations, psychiatric evaluations, chemical dependency assessments, an independent medical examination, or anger assessments.
As part of the outcome of the evaluation, the evaluator can make a broad range of recommendations. At the core, the evaluator may recommend physical custody, legal custody or parenting time arrangements. The custody evaluator may recommend therapy such as individual therapy or family therapy. The evaluator may recommend work around chemical dependency. For example, treatment, attending AA, or therapy focused on the issue. The evaluator may recommend a dispute resolution mechanism such as mediation, a parenting consultant or a special master. These are just a few of the recommendations that may come from a custody evaluation.
After completing the investigation, many providers have a meeting with the attorneys and sometimes with the parties. At the meeting, the evaluator will give their impressions and a summary of their findings and recommendations. The reason for this is drafting a formal report can be expensive, so this meeting can save the parties thousands of dollars. However, if the case is going to court, a written report is necessary. After hearing this feedback, many cases are resolved short of trial. However, if there is no agreement, the case is likely going to go to trial.
Guardians Ad Litem
In some cases, the court may also appoint a guardian ad item. The procedure for appointment varies from judicial district to judicial district. Some districts make frequent use of guardians ad litem. A court may appoint a guardian to speak on behalf of a child to the court on issues of custody and visitation. As a matter of practice, the courts strongly discourage any type of direct involvement of the minor children in the custody or parenting time dispute, including appearances in court. If the court has reason to believe the child has been a victim of domestic child abuse or neglect, the court must appoint a guardian ad item.
The guardian is required to conduct an investigation including interviews with the parents and other relevant individuals, review of the child’s medical and school records, and observations of the child in the home setting, advocate for the child’s best interests throughout the case, and present written reports on the child’s best interests with recommendations.
The guardian ad litem may be a volunteer or paid. If the guardian ad litem is paid,the court is required to enter an order concerning payment of the fees. If a parent is unable to pay, the court may order the fees paid out of funds available to the court.
For more information contact Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O’Connell, PLLC at 651-771-0050 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.