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All About Custody Assessments

Going through divorce is a stressful, overwhelming, and emotional process, and can take a toll on every member of the family. Sometimes during a family law case where custody is being contested on both sides, the courts will order a child custody assessment. Sometimes referred to as a custody evaluation, this process is fairly common. However, it can still be a nerve-racking process for any parent to go through.

Many divorcing couples can reach their own custody settlement agreements without having to see the inside of a courtroom, but when they cannot agree, the judge will order a custody evaluation to assess what’s in the child's best interests.

To make sure you’re prepared for the process, we have compiled this guide all about custody assessments.

Custody Assessments: Defined

First off, what exactly is a custody assessment or evaluation? This is basically a report compiled by a custody evaluator that summarizes their findings and recommendations as to why one parent is better suited to be awarded custody over the other. These trained mental health professionals are also usually child therapists or psychologists.

The whole process may take a few weeks to complete. This is so your evaluator can have enough time to meet with you and your kids, gather information and observations, and create a report to be submitted to the court. The evaluator’s job in these meetings is to ensure the child is not being unfairly pressured by one parent to say certain things about the other.

A custody evaluation is usually recommended by the judge when two parents cannot reach a custody agreement after attempting mediation. However, a judge isn’t the only one who can recommend such an evaluation. A parent can also request one even if the judge does not. A custody evaluator can determine the claims being made by each parent and advise the court as to the type of arrangement that would be best for the child.

A therapist may be recommended by the court, or you may be able to choose your own.

How to Prepare For a Custody Assessment

It can be very stressful for co-parents to undergo a child custody evaluation, even if they are both very good caregivers. To prevent your nerves from getting the best of you during an evaluation, follow these tips to reduce stress.

  • Cooperate with the evaluator even if you oppose the process.
  • Treat the evaluation like a job interview. Dress appropriately and be punctual, confident, and honest.
  • Come to the meeting prepared and organized, as the evaluator will likely request your case documents.
  • Be sure to let the evaluator know you are doing everything you can to meet the needs of the child first and foremost. They need to know your child is a priority over everything else, so leave the petty arguments with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse at home.
  • Ask your attorney for a list of referral questions to address your specific concerns.

A Look at the Custody Evaluation Process

Keep in mind that the mental health professional is there to determine what arrangement is in the best interests of your child. They are not there to make rash judgements or unfairly side with one parent over the other. They come to the table with no bias and with clear objectives. In order for the evaluator to make the best determination for the family, they tend to follow this overall procedure. The evaluator will:

  • Conduct multiple interviews with each parent separately.
  • Conduct multiple interviews with the child.
  • Observe each parent in their interactions with the child, either in an office or home setting.
  • Conduct interviews with others within the family unit and community, such as babysitters, teachers, and health care providers.
  • Perform psychological testing on family members if warranted.
  • Review previous court and legal activity regarding the custody and divorce case.
  • Examine the child’s health records, school attendance records, and report cards.

Based on what is gathered from the evaluations, the therapist will then create a report for review by the judge on the case. This report will contain all the therapist’s findings and recommendations of which custody arrangement would be best for the child. They may recommend one parent get sole custody, or that each parent get equal custody, or that one parent get the majority of custody with the other getting limited visitation.

Custody assessments hold a lot of weight in a family law case, so it’s important to take it seriously, be prepared, be honest, and know that in the end, the suggested arrangement is being done in the best interests of the child.

Book a Custody Assessment With Lucero Wellbeing

Lucero Wellbeing is a private practice in California and Nevada that provides mental health services, including custody assessments in family law cases. Contact us today to learn more about our custody assessment sessions and book a session.