Custody Evaluations and Their Importance in Custody Cases

Here at Smith Strong, PLC, we understand the importance of providing a safe, stable, healthy home for your child. Often in custody cases, a custody evaluation (also known as a psychological evaluation) of both parties (mother and father) is helpful in determining and assessing whether a parent can and will provide a healthy environment in order for your child to prosper. These evaluations are extremely important when allegations of psychological abuse have been made or the mental health of one parent is in question.

A Custody Evaluation is a Court Ordered Evaluation of a Family Used to Aide in Determining Custody and Visitation Cases

A custody evaluation is important in deciding on a child’s living arrangements and who has the right to make various decisions on the child’s behalf. Courts usually order these evaluations to provide more information about the parents, children, and overall environment and situation in which the child lives. The Court then uses this information in making their custody decision, deciding in the best interests of the child. The Court can order this evaluation to be done at any time throughout the custody process.

The evaluation is a process in which a mental health professional evaluates both parents and the child to make a recommendation to the court regarding custody and visitation. This evaluation can be ordered for numerous reasons, with the most common being parents failing to agree upon a schedule for the children for visitation and the Court has become involved.

Evaluations Cost Between $6,000 and $12,000 (as of 2018)

Depending on numerous factors such as the number of children involved, the amount of time required for the evaluation process, and the complexity of the case these evaluations add up in cost. They are usually between $6,000 and $12,000. Insurance does not cover the cost of these evaluations since it is ordered by the Court and used for the Court’s information in evaluating a custody case.

 

Preparing for a Custody Evaluation

Undergoing an evaluation could be a stressful experience for a parent, as the parent is concerned about the well-being of the child.

Ways to avoid this stress include:
Being cooperative with the evaluator
Be punctual and dress appropriately
Be prepared and organized with all documents requested

Documents and information
Often, the professional will request specific documents and information from each parent. The attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC can help you in determining what information would be the most helpful to provide an evaluator and would help your case. Typically, information will include:

 

  • Phone number list of essential people in your life who have observed your parenting
  • Legal records
  • List of mental health professionals for both yourself and children
  • Correspondence between parties (i.e. text messages and emails)
  • Records from school or medical records
  • Personal statements, notes, time lines, and family photographs
  • Legally obtained phone recordings

What to Expect Throughout the Evaluation Process

In general, you will meet with the doctor at least three times. Additional meetings can either be requested by the doctor or the client.

During these appointments and throughout the evaluation process, usually, the professional will:
Conduct multiple interviews with each parent separately
Conduct interviews with the child(ren) involved
Observe each parent’s interactions with the child (could be in an office or home setting)
Conduct interviews with others involved with the family, who have a strong knowledge of the familial situation (i.e. health care providers, teachers, etc.)

First Appointment
The first appointment is conducted individually and will last approximately three and a half hours with the professional. The doctor will conduct an interview of the parent that will provide essential information relevant for the assessment of custody. This interview will also provide the parent an opportunity to express his or her story and perspective of the situation.

After this initial interview, the parent will also take a series of psychological tests, determined as necessary by the professional conducting the interview.

Second Appointment
The second appointment is usually an observation of the parent and child. This could be done in either an office or home setting, depending on the preferences of the professional based on the situation at hand. This is decided on a case-by-case basis.

During this second appointment, the professional will also interview the child(ren), individually. The professional will ask the child about themselves and their family. The goal of the interview is to obtain necessary information for determining custody in the best interests of the child while maintaining a sense of comfort and security for the child throughout the interview process.

Third Appointment
Often, this is the final appointment in the process. This appointment occurs after the professional has had the opportunity to talk to people involved in the case, review records, review psychological test data, analyze information provided by the parents, and note any major discrepancies with information provided.

During this appointment, the professional will ask any necessary follow up questions about issues of major concern, provide feedback, and ensure they have everything necessary to finish the evaluation and make a recommendation.

Final Recommendation and Report
At the conclusion of this evaluation process, the professional will make a recommendation for custody and visitation to the Court in which he or she will provide a report that provides a summary of the evaluation and information provided.

Who Gets a Copy of the Report
It is at the Court’s discretion as to who gets a copy of the report. This is usually stated in the initial Order the Court issues for the evaluation and usually includes both party’s attorneys, the guardian ad litem, and the Court. The attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC will provide you with the information from the report, advise on what it means, and how to move forward.

What if the Report is Not in my Favor?
The purpose of the custody evaluation report is to determine what should be done in the best interest of the child. Usually, one parent is unhappy with the results of the evaluation, with both parents often being dissatisfied about something in the report. Van Smith and the other attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC will consult with you to discuss options moving forward regardless of whether the report is or is not in your favor. The attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC have years of experience in counseling clients after the custody evaluation report has been conducted.

Additionally, the judge does not always follow the report’s recommendation. The report serves as just that – a recommendation – but has no legal authority. The Court has discretion to make their ultimate ruling on custody and visitation issues based on additional information presented by the attorney.

Van Smith and the other attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC know how to present a case and argue for you and your child. The attorneys have experience in advising clients and guiding them through the custody evaluation process to ensure the most favorable outcome to the parties involved.  

Our firm has developed close relationships with the state’s leading child psychologist experts – and deploy this approach after careful review with our clients, when necessary.

Special thanks to co-author and fellow researcher, Hayden-Anne Breedlove for her contribution with this article. Hayden-Anne Breedlove anticipates graduating from the University of Richmond School of Law in May of 2019.

H. Van Smith
Trusted Virginia Family Law Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg