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Psychological Evaluations

Factors for Determining Child Custody

What is a Psychological Evaluation/Child Custody Evaluation?

When determining your child custody arrangement, the judge may decide that a deeper analysis of the situation is necessary before a custody decision can be made. Since judges presiding over child custody cases are unable to perform detailed investigations on the unique facts of each case, the judge may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL") or a professional custody evaluator to perform an investigation and prepare a custody evaluation report. The custody evaluation report analyzes the situation and makes a recommendation on what custody or visitation arrangement would be in the best interest of the child or children involved.

What is the purpose of the custody evaluation report? The primary consideration in a child custody evaluation is to assess the individual and family factors which affect the child's best psychological and developmental interests. Therefore, a custody evaluator's responsibility is to advise the court regarding the child or children 's psychological and emotional needs, the resources offered by each parent to meet those needs, and which custody or visitation arrangement would best meet those needs. The court may consider this report along with several other factors when determining your child custody arrangement. To discuss how a custody evaluation may benefit your case or what you should do to prepare for an upcoming custody evaluation in your case, contact Meriwether & Tharp, LLC to speak with one of our knowledgeable child custody attorneys.

What Happens During Child Custody Evaluations?

Typically, during their evaluation, custody evaluators will interview each parent several times, administer psychological tests that assess the parent's personality and parenting approach, observe parents interacting with their children in various situations, and administer psychological tests which evaluate the well-being of the child or children involved. Additionally, parents who have been ordered to undergo an evaluation should expect the evaluator to:

  • Interview the child or children involved;
  • Conduct interviews with individuals who have relevant information about parenting or child issues. These individuals often include therapists, teachers, neighbors, extended family members, step-parents or prospective stepparents, babysitters, and other individuals involved with the family;
  • Compile developmental histories for the child or children involved;
  • Review school records, medical and psychiatric records, legal records, and records from home, like activities calendars, personal journals, photographs, home videos, or sound recordings;
  • Conduct home visits; and,
  • Make assessments regarding the parents' capacity for parenting, the child or children's psychological and developmental needs, the desires of the child or children, when appropriate, and the ability of each parent to meet those needs and desires.

What's in a Custody Evaluation Report?

Rather than place too much weight on any single source of information, a good custody evaluator will wait patiently until they collect sufficient evidence from multiple sources before coming to any conclusions. Remember, an evaluator's goal is to make recommendations in the best interests of the child or children involved.

Similar to a GAL, custody evaluators must reduce their findings to a report which explains the evidence relied upon by the evaluator and the reasoning behind their decisions. Once completed, the evaluator will submit an oral or written report to the court. If a GAL has also been appointed to the case, the GAL and custody evaluator will likely communicate to coordinate efforts and share information.

How is a Custody Evaluation used in Court?

Unlike communications with a privately retained psychologist, communication with a court-appointed custody evaluator is NOT confidential between the parents, attorneys, judges, and GAL. The evaluator's report can help the parents to reach agreements about custody, visitation, and parental decision-making concerning the children.

If the parties do not reach an agreement before trial, either party may request the psychologist to appear at trial and testify on behalf of that party. As with any other professional, the parties involved in a case where a case evaluator has been appointed will be responsible for compensating the evaluator.

Psychological Evaluations Generally 

Psychological evaluations are not just for children in child custody cases. Adults may be need evaluations as well. The judge, GAL appointed to the case, or the parties themselves, may request psychological evaluations and/or substance abuse evaluations be conducted to aid the court in determining custody. The court-appointed evaluator does not work for one particular party of the case but performs the assessment as a neutral.

A psychological evaluation is an independent evaluation conducted by a court-appointed psychologist or other mental health professional to assess a person's mental health functioning.

If the abuse of alcohol or other controlled substances are a concern, the psychological evaluation may include a substance abuse evaluation to assess the presence of a particular problem, define the nature of that problem, determine a diagnosis, and develop specific treatment recommendations for the problem or diagnosis.

How much does a Custody Evaluation cost?

The cost of a child custody evaluation varies depending on the case's circumstances and could cost anywhere between $3,000.00 and $15,000.00. Typically, the court orders both parties share this cost equally. However, if one party does choose to have the evaluator testify, that party would be responsible for compensating the evaluator for his or her court appearance.

What if a Child Custody Evaluation is Wrong?

After the case evaluation is completed, either parent may challenge the validity of the evaluator's report in court if that parent considers the evidence or the reasoning relied upon by the evaluator to be inadequate. Ultimately, the judge will decide whether the evaluator's opinions are of sufficient value and weight to be considered in awarding custody and visitation.

Additional Resources 

Feel free to read more about related topics. You've got questions, Meriwether & Tharp is here with the answers you need. 
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