Custody and Parenting Time Evaluations
In deciding the issues of child custody and parenting time, the court may seek custody and parenting time recommendations of a professional — either court personnel or an outside expert. The custody study and recommendations are to be in writing and must be available to counsel. The evaluator writing the custody study and recommendations may be cross-examined at trial. The evaluator must consider the best interest factors of the custody statute and explain the information considered for each factor.
The evaluator will look for common history between parent and child. During the home visit, the evaluator will observe the methods of discipline, displays of physical affection, and the general routine of the family. It is important to know the milestones of development of the child, including age at which the child first spoke, walked, any hospitalizations, surgeries, or other medical problems.
Once completed, the report must be mailed to counsel for the parties or a party not represented by counsel at least ten (10) days before the hearing. In addition, the evaluator’s file must be made available for review. The evaluator’s report is admissible as evidence at trial. The evaluator and any party consulted for the report may be called for cross-examination.
The court may order the parents to pay all or part of the costs of the evaluation. An evaluation through the Court’s Court Services agency will cost each party $500 to $2,000 depending upon the county and the parents’ incomes. A private evaluation may cost between $5,000 and $15,000.
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.