Child Custody Evaluators
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Your marriage went bad and the divorce process is ugly and bitter. You and your spouse are both making some heinous allegations about the other and you can’t agree on the most basic of custody arrangements.
What is it?
A custody evaluation can be a very powerful tool to assist the court in making some hard decisions regarding the best interests of your children. Your family is essentially put under a microscope by a mental health professional. They can be an MFCC (Marriage, Family, Child Counselor) all the way up to a Ph.D. The Ph.D. can conduct psychological testing when the facts and case call for it.
The scope of these evaluations can range from of one single issue to essentially dealing with every issue in the matter (regarding the children). The evaluation process can be lengthy, sometimes taking upwards of 6 months.
How much does it cost?
Typically these evaluations are costing between $7,500.00 up to tens of thousands of dollars. These costs can be borne by either or both parties. Sometimes the court will even order one party to pay "subject to reallocation at a later date". This means the court can order one party to initially pay, but then redistribute this cost as the Court deems appropriate.
What is the process?
The evaluator will start with a comprehensive "intake questionnaire" that both you and your spouse must complete. Then there will be an in-office interview, followed by a home interview/inspection. The evaluator may ask for additional documentation along the way, which should be provided promptly. The more time the evaluator has to spend chasing down requested information, the higher the cost will be.
There are also collateral (people other than the parties) percipient witnesses (those that have personal knowledge of important facts or events) that the evaluator may want to interview. Both sides will typically have an opportunity to provide a list of collaterals to the evaluator for consideration.
In addition, the evaluator will speak to the children’s school teachers or daycare providers. This can often be a treasure trove of information. Besides the parents, the teachers or daycare providers spend a tremendous amount of time with the children and can usually offer tremendous insight into their behavior, emotional state, etc.
The evaluator will also spend considerable time communicating with the children (depending on their ages). This serves several purposes, not the least of which is giving the children an opportunity to express their wishes/desires/fears/concerns regarding the divorce.
What is the end result?
At the end of the evaluation process, the evaluator will prepare a report. The report will contain historical data and conclude with the making of recommendations. It is important to clearly define the scope of the evaluation so the report that is generated appropriately responds to the issues in the case. The evaluator does not make orders; only recommendations. More often than not, the judicial officer will consider making those recommendations orders of the court. There is a separate process by which any party can "challenge" the recommendations of the evaluator if necessary, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.
If you wish to discuss this in greater detail, please give me a call at 818-888-1144 or email me at MBreddan@ReapeRickett.com and we can talk about your specific situation.