If you are involved in a court case about custody you may be asked to consider completing a custody evaluation.  Before you agree or disagree, it’s important to understand what the process involves and how a custody evaluation could impact your case.

A custody evaluation is typically completed by a psychologist, and it involves a few different steps.  First, it’s important to note that a custody evaluation involves both parents and the children. This means that the evaluation should either be agreed by the parents or ordered by the court.  It’s not possible to get a custody evaluation when only one parent participates.  Once the parents have agreed to a psychologist to complete the evaluation or the court has ordered that a specific psychologist conduct the evaluation, the process often begins with an initial meeting between the psychologist and each parent.  From there the psychologist will meet with each child and may meet with each child alongside each parent to observe the interactions between them.

In addition to gathering information during meetings, most custody evaluations involve mental health testing.  This testing is conducted by the psychologist in the psychologist’s office, so it is not generally possible to submit prior test results if you were tested for a different purpose.  The tests which are administered are designed to assess the psychological health of each parent and to uncover any underlying issues which might impact parenting.  Based on the nature of these tests, there is no preparation needed to take them.

A parent engaging in a custody evaluation should prepare for the interview portion of the evaluation by gathering in advance any documents which might be useful to the evaluation.  These might include medical records, school records, court records, or communication between parents.  Communication between parents could also include things like voicemails or videos, if applicable.  Providing these documents or recordings to the evaluator prior to the individual meetings allows the evaluator to properly prepare to discuss the topics relevant to a specific family.

Once the psychologist has conducted all interviews, reviewed all documents, and completed all testing, he or she will prepare a written report which summarizes each step and provides recommendations about what custody and parenting time arrangement is best for the children in the opinion of the evaluator.  It’s important to remember that the psychologist is not a decision-maker in your legal case and cannot order anyone to do anything.  Instead, the report is an expert opinion which can be used as evidence in your case.

As you can imagine, a properly conducted custody evaluation is a valuable piece of evidence for the court and for you to consider.  If the report is going to be introduced as evidence in a custody trial, the psychologist who prepared it will likely be called as a witness to discuss it.  This allows the evaluator to explain the process and the reasons for the opinions expressed in the report.  It’s important to carefully review the report with your attorney so that you can make decisions about the next steps in your custody case in light of the outcome of the report.

Finally, be sure to ask questions about the cost and the timeline for receiving a completed report before agreeing to a custody evaluation.  The process involves significant time spent by a psychologist and can be expensive.  In addition, the process can take several months to complete which could impact the timing of your court case.

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