In Georgia, when parents can't agree on who should take care of the child after the divorce, a Judge will order, or the parties can consent to, a custody evaluation. The evaluation is done by a licensed psychologist and its purpose is to assist the Court in determining the best interests of the child pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3. The evaluator can appear in Court and speak to the Judge about his or her investigation as well.
The psychologist will interview both parties and the child and he or she will make a specific recommendation to the court on a custody and visitation schedule. The evaluator cannot be a psychologist who has previously seen either party or the child. The evaluation focuses on what the child's psychological needs are and which parent will best be able to meet these needs. The evaluator can make a recommendation for joint physical custody, or can assign one parent primary custody with visitation for the other parent. The evaluator may perform personality tests, IQ tests and psychological tests to make this determination. He or she will also speak with witnesses, teachers and caregivers to assess the child's best interests. In addition, he or she will assess the strength of the family bond including relationships with grandparents and extended family and step siblings, the parent's availability and work schedule, and the Parties' health. The evaluator might perform a home visit, but this is more common in the investigation performed by a Guardian ad Litem. The evaluator strives to be neutral and to remove the biases of gender, race and religion.
The difference between the custody evaluator and a Guardian ad Litem is that a guardian is often an attorney, and the custody evaluator is a psychologist who can assess the mental health of both parties. A Guardian ad Litem can request a custody evaluation as part of his or her investigation. Custody evaluations can be more thorough and delve into deeper family issues than a Guardian ad Litem. However, they can also cost from $3,000.00 to $10,000.00 depending on your jurisdiction and the evaluator selected.
If you have questions about a custody evaluation or about custody during a divorce, contact one of our Atlanta family law attorneys.
By Elizabeth Christen Doak, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC