A child custody evaluation involves having an evaluator – usually a mental health professional or a social worker – observe the parent and child interactions, inspect the parent’s home, and talk to people who know the parent, the child or both. The evaluator then writes a recommendation for the court concerning the custody and visitation arrangements. Custody evaluations are ordered by the family court judge overseeing the custody case. While the judge can decide to order a custody evaluation on their own, parents can also request a child custody evaluation if they have concerns about their child’s wellbeing in the care of the other parent. Take a look at some scenarios in which you might need to request a child custody evaluation.
When Abuse is a Possibility
One very good reason to request a child custody evaluation is when there may be a possibility of abuse. If your ex has been abusive in the past, you have reason to worry that they may also be abusive in the future. Even if your ex has never abused your children, if they’ve abused you, it’s important to consider the possibility that they may abuse the children if you aren’t available.
Requesting an evaluation is one way to make sure that your children are protected. The evaluator will have a chance to talk to your kids, observe their interactions with the other parent, and talk to teachers, family members, and friends to find out whether or not your children are at risk. Because an evaluator is a neutral third party, their recommendation should be free of bias. This helps prevent accusations that one parent is making up accusations of abuse just to gain an advantage in court.
When You Suspect Substance Abuse
Substance abuse by a parent puts the child at risk of neglect or exposure to various hazards. Parents who struggle with substance abuse issues may be loving parents who should have contact with their children, but they may not be capable of properly supervising those children when they’re actively using substances. Deciding how to handle custody and visitation when addiction issues are present is difficult, especially when you’re no longer living with your ex and don’t know for sure if they’re currently abusing substances or not.
Requesting an evaluation is one way to find out the truth of the situation. The evaluator will need to determine if the parent shows signs of active addiction, if they’re taking any steps to deal with their addiction, and if they have a safe home or suitable place to spend time with the children. If the evaluator finds signs of substance abuse, they may recommend supervised visitation so that you can be sure that your children are safe while visiting with their other parent.
When You Can’t Come to An Agreement
Sometimes it can be difficult for even two well-intentioned parents to come to a suitable agreement when it comes to custody and visitation arrangements. Generally, if you and your child’s other parent can’t agree, the judge will settle the matter. However, there are some cases in which you may want an evaluator’s recommendation before the judge makes a decision.
For example, if the custodial parent wants visitation to only happen on weekends, but the noncustodial parent works weekends and wants visitation days during the week, the custodial parent may be concerned about possible disruption to the child’s school schedule. An evaluator could consider both parents’ concerns, their living situations, their options as far as transporting the child to and from school, and any other factors, and then make a recommendation for how noncustodial parent can have visitation without disrupting the school schedule.
When Someone Wants to Make a Big Change
Another common reason to ask for a custody evaluation is when there is a serious change to the custody arrangement on the table. For example, if your child’s other parent decides to move out of the state, they may request visitation on summer vacations and holidays rather than every other weekend. If you’re opposed to such a change, or you’re worried that it might have a negative effect on your child, you might want to request an evaluation. The evaluator can decide whether the disruption caused by the change in visitation schedules outweighs the possible negative effects of having far less contact with the parent moving out of state.
When There are Disagreements Over Medical Issues
When it comes to medical questions, it’s possible for two parents who both want what’s best for their child to approach things from very different angles and come to very different conclusions about the best course of action. For example, one parent may feel very strongly about vaccinating their child and the other might feel very strongly about not vaccinating them.
It gets even more complicated when the child has a medical condition that needs treatment. If one parent is a Jehovah’s Witness and one is not, who decides whether the child should receive a blood transfusion. If the child has a terminal illness, which parent decides whether or not they should have a Do Not Resuscitate order? What about experimental treatments – if one parent is willing to risk side effects or bad outcomes and the other is not, who gets to choose?
These are difficult questions to answer even between married couples, let alone between co-parenting divorced couples. It’s typical for parents to share legal custody – the ability to make important decisions, like medical decisions, for their child – even when they don’t share physical custody, so when there’s a disagreement over how to proceed, the question can wind up being answered by a court. A custody evaluator will have to make a recommendation that they believe to be in the best interests of the child, regardless of either parents’ beliefs about the issue. Requesting a custody evaluation in such a case is a way to make sure that the final decision falls on the side of ensuring the well-being of the child.
If you’re involved in a custody dispute and want a child custody evaluation, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you find the paperwork you need and file the papers to request that the judge order an evaluation.