A child custody evaluation is a legal process in which a court appoints mental health expert, social services evaluator or home inspector who evaluates your family, your home or either both.
Child custody evaluation becomes necessary at times when there’s a divorce or separation and parents deny the custody rights. In such cases, a child evaluation order is issued by the court to verdict in the best interest of a child. This often becomes stressful for parents if the court appoints an evaluator and they make a bad evaluation which eventually hurts their custody case.
If you are in the same situation, then knowing the signs of a bad custody evaluation will be the need of the day. In order to lessen your anxiety and clear the conundrums, you must understand things that an evaluator will look upon. By this, you can prepare yourself for an evaluation and probably have custody of the child.
Generally, it’s the psychologist who is appointed to evaluate you for the custody of your child and the other parent. He works to determine the psychological needs of the child and how parents show their ability to satisfy the needs of their child(ren). This evaluation includes observations, interviews, information on prior court proceedings, and some essential psychological tests.
How to understand signs of a bad custody evaluation?
An evaluation of child custody is performed by a mental health professional who evaluates the entire family psychologically and gives recommendations to the court about visitation and custody rights. The recommendations are based on the evaluation that is presented to ensure that the child’s psychological needs are met. The evaluator may recommend the parent or guardian for the child’s custody who best met the requirements and consistently worked to meet them with the child.
While the evaluators interview and assess parents, they closely monitor parents’ skills and deficits in performing in certain areas. In addition, if the evaluator determines that a parent does not fit for the custodial rights, this would also affect the visitation and other rights as a parent after separation or divorce.
When here’s a need for a child custody evaluation?
The evaluation for child custody is needed when parents do not reach a mutual agreement without the jury’s help. Moreover, the need for a child custody evaluation can also be raised if one parent thinks that the current guardian or the parent is not completely fit for the custodial rights or does not perform in the best interest of a child.
Whatever the determination would be, the court will always verdict on the evaluation, information, and recommendation presented by the evaluator. Although the recommendations from the evaluator would not be a final verdict, it will impact largely on the custody decisions of a judge.
Also, if a parent identifies that the parent with the child custody rights is not legally fit for custody, he/she can ask for an evaluation from the court. However, for any legal step against a court-appointed guardian, consulting with an experienced lawyer should be your first consideration.
One basic challenge that family courts face is that the rules of evaluation differ across jurisdictions. According to Zermatten (2010),
“No one knows for certain what are the best interests of a child, or a group of children” (p. 485). Kelly (1999) notes that “because the concept of best interests is rarely defined but heavily relied on, experts, attorneys, court personnel, and parents … create their own meanings” (p. 378).
Experts suggest that the custody evaluation of a child should be consist of these components;
Preparing yourself for a child custody evaluation
Every child custody case is different and so is the evaluation. Many times an evaluation takes one long meeting and one requirement. It can also be elongated up to multiple long meetings and can be stretched up to weeks and months. Additionally, if a judge has ordered a child custody evaluation for your child’s custody case, the court will provide additional time to proceed with the custody case.
However, it also depends on the evaluator. As the case evaluation varies, the number of meetings and hours also differ in every custody evaluation. Plus, being unfamiliar with the process can also increase stress and anxiety which ultimately influence your evaluation. Besides, it may affect and may alter your normal behavior with your child in front of the evaluator.
To halt your chances of getting out of the recommendation of an evaluator, it is best to keep the following tips in mind during the evaluation so your anxiety and stress do not take a toll.
- Be a respondent parent – During your evaluation, your evaluator can ask you for some documents. Unavailability of the documents or not providing them at the given time can seriously affect your evaluation. The act can be assumed as a forgetful turn on a legal proceeding. Make sure that you arrange all the information asked by the evaluator.
- Be cooperative – Even though you do not favor the evaluation, you mustn’t portray it from your behavior. Else, it will ultimately leave a negative impression on the evaluator and may influence his recommendation as well.
- Take it seriously – The best way to ace the evaluation is to treat the meeting like it is a career opportunity. Dress up well, be organized and reach on time for the meeting and most of all, do not fake things with your child to make a good impression. It does not always end in a good way. Being honest with your evaluator will help you in acing the interview quickly.
- Keep the best interest of your child at priority – Keeping your child’s interest above yours, promises a favorable outcome. Ensure that in front of your evaluator.
- Talk to your attorney – An experienced family law attorney will help you determine referral questions in order to have a better evaluation in specific areas. This might be beneficial for you in cases where the evaluator might have overlooked it.
Do’s and Don’ts of the evaluation process
During a child custody process, you should also focus on what you should and shouldn’t in front of the evaluator.
Exhibiting the willingness to compromise
All through the evaluation process, the evaluator will likely determine your relationship with your child, your abilities to handle emotional situations, and imperfections that may arise. Exhibiting a willingness to continue a good relationship with the other parent in front of the child despite personal differences, will determine that you put your child’s interest first.
Avoid smearing your ex
Evaluators mostly don’t make their recommendations on the basis of your complaints and experience. Unless the situation demands evidence of your complaints that show improper or abusive behavior of the other parent with the child. Use the evaluation meetings as much as you can to speak about the weaknesses and strengths of your relationship with your child.
Show your inclination towards resolving the issue for the better future of your child. Smearing your ex and blaming them for any negative instance in your life may backfire. Focus more on being honest and putting in good gestures instead.
Keep your focus on the child’s best interest
Custody evaluators are appointed to put the best choice forward for a child’s custody. They are not marriage counselors to listen to disagreements with your ex. Focus on speaking about your child rather than your relationship.
Don’t instruct your child about what to say
Similar to the fact that manipulating your evaluation process can be dangerous; it is also a red flag to coach your child in front of the evaluator. Evaluators often work with children in becoming evaluators and are health professionals who know how it feels like instructing a child to say something. They can even set a meeting separately with your child to know the exact conflict.
Avoid getting personal with your evaluator
As said repeatedly, willingness to exhibit compromise will lead to a positive outcome rather than showing disapproval on things you can’t control. Even if you think that the evaluator is provoking your child to say something against you, you should not interrupt or tell your child what and how to say.
Evaluators are professionals and they know what can trigger a pretending parent in no time. Also, they are tasked to find the child’s interest which they only focus on. All you can do is make a good impression and be a good host.
What shows signs of a bad custody evaluation
What if you showed proper behavior and were honest and organized, the report of the child custody evaluation shows signs of bad custody evaluation? In this case,
- The evaluator of the case may not be focusing on the facts that you or your attorney emphasized on
- The report or the recommendations were not based on the facts and may not be connected with the provided information that led them to make recommendations.
If you have strong evidence that the appointed evaluator did not make a fair evaluation, then your lawyer can submit a motion to disqualify the evaluator for providing unfair recommendations.
However, you may need to be very confident in moving forward with these options as it is not easy to prove an evaluator dishonest or his recommendations biased. As stated in the California Rules of Court 5.220, an evaluator should perform according to the rules defined in the state statute. If an evaluator acts accordingly, the motion of disqualifying the evaluator might not come in handy and it also excludes the chance of throwing out the custody evaluation report.
This is why discussing with your attorney should be the first thing that you need to do in such cases and to avoid putting yourself in hot waters.
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