When divorcing couples face decisions about important issues, like debt and property division, few issues evoke the emotional response like the ones concerning minor children. Whether it's child custody, visitation or child support, issues that involve children are often hotly contested and frequently must be decided upon in court. Family court judges can and will make these decisions for parents who cannot, and they often turn to experts when this occurs. Read on to learn more about what happens when a judge has ordered a child custody evaluation.
Who does the evaluation?
Experts in the mental health field, such as licensed mental health therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists are usually called upon to carry out child custody evaluations. These evaluators often have a special certification in the area of child therapy or play therapy, and are skilled in interviewing both children and their parents to determine parental fitness.
It's important to note that these evaluations are often expensive, and since the parents are paying for the evaluation, family court judges will normally present the parents with a list of court-approved mental health experts from which to choose.
What happens at a child custody evaluation?
Evaluations are usually carried out via a series of interview sessions, and you can expect your child to be interviewed alone several times (you may be allowed to view the interview remotely). The evaluator will also interview each parent separately and observe parental interactions between the child and parent as well.
In some cases, other parties will be interviewed, such as close family members, pediatricians, school personnel and others. If the evaluator needs more information, they may request a full work-up on the child, which will consist of psychological tests on the child and sometimes the parents. This often requires the use of an additional specialist.
How should you handle this?
Naturally, this entire experience can ratchet up the stress level even more than divorce normally does. After all, your parental fitness is being judged by a virtual stranger, and the stakes could not be higher. It's vital that you stay in close contact with your divorce attorney during the evaluation process and contact them immediately if you sense something is amiss. One major issue that might trigger your alarm is a perception of bias on the evaluator's part. Don't make the mistake of waiting for the report to be handed to the judge-- have your attorney request a different evaluator as soon as possible.
Divorce cases that include contested child custody issues are more difficult, so it's vital that you retain the expertise and support of a legal professional. Contact your divorce attorney for more information about child custody evaluations.
If you've decided that you want to adopt a child, the first thing you should do is reach out to a family law attorney. While it may not seem logical to get an attorney involved from the start, it's important that you protect yourself legally from the beginning. After making the decision to adopt, I have been through the process several times. I created this site to help other adoptive parents understand what they can expect from the entire process, including the legal support you're likely to need. I hope this information helps you feel more confident in this major life decision.