What To Know About Child Custody Evaluations
In all divorce cases where a child is involved, custody - both physical custody and legal custody - must be determined. Typically in Missouri this process is decided upon by the two parents, but in some cases outside professionals and the court step in to make the determination.
What is a Child Custody Evaluation?
A child custody evaluation is done to determine the physical and legal custody of a child in cases of divorce. Mental health professionals, usually psychologists, will work with the parents, child, and the court to make an informed recommendation as to custody.
They are trying to determine a custody arrangement that takes into account the best interest of the child and one that ensures his or her needs will be met. In most cases, barring a parent who is either unfit or uninterested in sharing custody, some kind of joint custody recommendation will be made.
When are Custody Evaluations Performed?
These evaluations are not mandatory, and in most cases, the two parents along with the help of their attorneys or mediator will make all custody decisions which would then be approved by a judge. In instances where the two parents are unable to agree on an arrangement, an evaluation will be ordered.
It's also an option for one or both parents to request an evaluation either at the onset of the divorce proceedings, or after a divorce has been finalized but one or both parties are dissatisfied with the arrangement. It's important to note that the cost of the child custody evaluation falls to the parents who will typically split the evaluator's fees.
Tips for Preparing for a Child Custody Evaluation
A custody evaluation can be a stressful time for both the parents and the child, but there are steps you can take to make the process run smoother.
How to Prepare for a Child Custody Evaluation:
- Talk to your child ahead of time about the process and what will be expected of them. Do NOT coach them on what to say to the evaluator
- Be honest and open with the evaluator - they are looking out for the best interest of your child
- Comply with all requests for observations and interviews
- Prioritize your child's well being over your own emotional needs
- Consult with your attorney about any questions or concerns you may have before or during the evaluation
- Be evenhanded and calm when speaking to the evaluator, especially when talking about your spouse
Child Custody Evaluation Process
The process will look slightly different based on the age of the child, but the basic steps are the same. The evaluator will:
- Perform interviews with each parent separately
- Perform an interview with the child (if old enough)
- Observe the child interacting with each parent separately
- Perform external interviews with teachers, pediatricians, or other adults in the child's life
- Review any previous court and legal activity involving the parents of the child
All in all, custody evaluations are a common practice with divorcing couples and should not be viewed as intrusive or unreasonable. The evaluator and the courts want to find a solution that all parties can agree to and that looks out for the child above all else.
Custody evaluators can be an invaluable resource for couples who are unable to communicate and need help making decisions. By allowing the evaluator to do their job, you'll save time and money, and you'll be taking the right step for your child.