A child custody evaluation begins with the court appointing the evaluator to conduct the evaluation. Typically, all members of the family are included in the assessment. Depending on the family’s situation, this may also include evaluating a stepparent, fiancé, boyfriend/girlfriend or live-in partner. Child custody evaluations consist of a series of interviews with both parents, alone and/or together, as well as with children who possess the requisite verbal skills for this procedure. Dr. DeGrange prefers to include both parents for the initial interview to review procedures. Each parent’s interview, following the initial joint session, will cover the same general topics. During the interview, parents are afforded the opportunity to discuss their concerns regarding the children, the other parent and to provide information that relates to the issues of child custody and parenting time. Finally, if one parent makes a substantive allegation against the other parent, the accused parent will be afforded the opportunity to respond.
Evaluations typically involve an observation session of each parent with the children. The purpose of observations is to obtain information concerning each parent’s ability and capacity to interact with the children. This observation session varies depending on the age of the children. It is also typical for the evaluator to gather information about parents and children from collateral sources such as friends, physicians, teachers, and/or therapists. If the family has been involved with the Department of Child and Family Services or the police, information regarding these contacts will be reviewed in order to better understand the family’s situation. Any documents that parents feel will help the evaluator in getting a clearer picture of the family situation will be accepted for review including documents associated with previous court proceedings.
Psychological testing may be included. Drug testing may be included if this is a concern. Depending on the circumstances, a child may also undergo formal testing to assess his/her emotional well-being and/or academic potential. Except in unusual circumstances, both parents will be administered the same tests.
After the child custody evaluation is completed, a written report including recommendations will be submitted to the attorneys and to the court. The evaluator’s recommendations may provide the basis for a settlement. If the case proceeds to trial, however, either parent may call the evaluator as a witness to explain conclusions and recommendations. The court determines final decisions if a settlement agreement between the parents cannot be reached.