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Preparing for Your Custody Evaluation

Very often when parents cannot agree to a workable custody arrangement for their children, the Court will order a custody evaluation be performed by a licensed psychologist. The psychologist is appointed as the Court's expert and will act as an independent party in the case.

While you may be doubtful about the process, the evaluator is there to help your family and the court determine what is in the best interests of the children. The best evaluators are not primarily interested in a detailed inspection of all of your personal strengths and weaknesses or deciding "which side is right" in all of your marital and post-marital conflicts. Do not consider the evaluation process as a win - lose contest. This is an excellent time to focus on the future. The main concern of the evaluator is figuring out how to establish the best fit between your children at this point in their development and the various proposed custodial environments and arrangements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As difficult as it may be at this time, try to separate the problems you have with your marriage, or previous partner, from your parenting role and responsibilities. Evaluators can be a resource of information on books that might help, parenting classes in the community, counseling or other areas of need and may be able to provide information on those resources.

You should be aware however that custody evaluations are not the same as going to a psychologist or counselor; the information you share will be put in a report for the court and others to see. You will not have a confidential relationship with the custody evaluator. The number one thing that you can do to help yourself during the evaluation process is to be honest and cooperative with the evaluator. Any dishonest or inaccurate information that you report will only hurt you.

Below are some suggestions of things to keep in mind when preparing for your custody evaluation:

  • Arrive on time at your custody evaluation interview.
  • Dress neatly and conservatively.
  • Be honest. The custody evaluator will likely check out your statements with collaterals and/or other sources such as friends and/or other family members.
  • If you provide the custody evaluator with names of collaterals, it is a good idea to inform them in advance that they may be contacted so that they can prepare to speak on your behalf.
  • If the custody evaluator chooses to use psychological testing, ABSOLUTELY answer honestly. The tests are designed to detect defensiveness and lies and unless you are an expert in psychometric testing, you are unlikely to fool them.
  • Be sincere. The custody evaluator can usually detect over embellishment and insincerity.
  • It's all right to be nervous; most people are.
  • It's all right to cry and/or show emotion; many people do.
  • Answer questions directly and to the point.
  • Make sure you pay attention to what the evaluator is asking.
  • Take your time when answering a question. If you do not understand what is being asked, feel free to ask the evaluator to explain what he/she means.
  • If the custody evaluator asks that you provide additional documentation, do so as promptly as possible or communicate any concerns about getting it.
  • The evaluator will usually observe you and the children interact together. Be attentive to their needs and focus on their interests and not yours but most of all behave naturally.

Your most important ally in the evaluation process is your believability. You get this by showing a balanced, even-handed approach. Don't present only your strengths and only the other person's weaknesses.

  • Make a list of the strengths of your present position-job, economics, extended family support, etc.
  • Make a list of the strengths of the other person's present position.
  • Make a list of your strengths.
  • Make a list of your weaknesses. Be brutally honest! Before your custody evaluation let our office look over your list and review it with you. Other than you, our office will be the only ones to see the list, but it will give you a chance to practice acknowledging shortcomings without being overly defensive.
  • Make a list of the other person's strengths. This is really important! It is easy to concentrate on the other person's weaknesses and what they do wrong. Here, you need to list what he/she does right.
  • Make a list of the other person's weaknesses.
  • Make a list of any false allegations you expect the other person to make.
  • Decide how you might refute any false allegations and make a list of witnesses that can help you refute them.
  • Make a list of the important things you may not have told our office and make an appointment to discuss them with your attorney as soon as possible prior to your appointment with the evaluator.
  • Write out a draft-parenting plan, listing everything that you want as if you will be able to get it. Addressing:
    - where the children will live,
    - what schools they will go to,
    - how your work schedule will allow you sufficient time to supervise the children,
    - state the schedule you propose for the other person and how that schedule provides stability,
    - how you and the other parent can work as a parenting team and what would make that easier

In most cases the custody evaluator is looking at which parent is more likely to facilitate contact with the other person. If you seem unreasonably obstructionistic with regard to the other person's contact, it may work against you.

  • Make a list of the "bargaining chips" that you have.
  • Make a list of which points in your draft custody plan are negotiable- things that you want, but that you would give up to get something else.

There are also various things that you shouldn't do before, during or after the custody evaluation. These things could reflect poorly on you and the outcome of the evaluation:

  • DO NOT speak badly of your spouse/partner unless the custody evaluator asks you to comment on what you perceive to be the problems between you.
  • DO not make threatening comments about your spouse/partner or anyone else to the evaluator.
  • DO NOT harass the custody evaluator with phone calls.
  • DO NOT drop by the evaluator's office without an appointment.
  • DO NOT call the custody evaluator to see if the report is completed.
  • DO NOT coach your children on what to say to the evaluator, especially regarding negative things about their other parent. The custody evaluator has ways of telling if either parent has coached the children in any way.

Some Questions the Evaluator May Ask:

What are your children's interests?
How is their progress in school?
What activities do you share with your children?
Who purchases their clothes?
- takes them to doctors' appointments?
- checks their homework?
- enrolls them in sports or arts instruction?
- prepares their meals?
- escorts them to the bus stop in the morning?
- helps them to resolve their problems?
- shares their triumphs?
Who taught your children to walk?
- to talk?
- to read?
- to count?
- who potty trained them?
What is your children's school day schedule?
- their weekend schedule?
- your work and social schedule?
- your travel schedule?
- the other parent's schedule?
What do you children like to eat?
- to wear?
- to read?
- medications, exercises or educational program have been prescribed?
Who are the children's teachers?
- babysitters?
- neighborhood friends?
- coaches?
- counselors?
- pets?
- grandparents?
- step-parents?
- half siblings?
Will your children express a preference? What motivates their preference?

This information has been provided in an effort to help ease some of the nervousness we know many parents feel going into the custody evaluations. Being informed, prepared to address the issues honestly and forthrightly and having all of your information organized prior to your appointment can help ease the process of the evaluation. If after reading this information, you have any further questions or concerns, please be sure to contact our office as soon as possible prior to your appointment with the evaluator.

 

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