People approach and prepare for custody evaluations differently.  Some have positive instincts and feelings about what will happen, while others dread the process.  Regardless of how you feel about an upcoming custody evaluation, it is helpful to understand the process.  

What to Expect Generally

            While not all evaluators use the same methods in a custody evaluation, most try to follow the same basic guidelines.  The following will occur in most evaluations. 

            Generally, in order to start the evaluation process, the lawyers for the parties will give the evaluator the necessary pleadings and depositions so that the evaluator is able to understand the basic positions of the parties.  Once the evaluator has looked over the relevant materials, the client and evaluator will set up all appointments between themselves. 

            Once the evaluator and the parties have coordinated the logistics, the evaluator will interview the parents first.  Usually, each parent will be interviewed individually on different dates.  During the first interview, the evaluator will ask questions about the status of the case, what the client wishes, what the client is concerned about, questions about the children, and questions about the family’s economic and social circumstances.  During this first meeting, a standardized test is usually given.  The most frequent test is the MMPII, which is used by over 80% of the evaluators in the United States.

Child-Centered Interview

            During these interviews, it is important to be as truthful as possible.  If an evaluator discovers that one of the parties has been untruthful, this will immediately form a negative view of this party and the evaluator will have a hard time believing anything else said during the process.

            Additionally, it is important to recognize the importance of child-centered interviews.  This means that whatever the parent tells the evaluator should be directly or indirectly related to the child.  Evaluators often listen carefully for unresolved divorce issues, jealously, etc… That being said, it is appropriate for the parent to tell the evaluator about negative acts by the other parent that can be directly related to the children.

Explain Children’s Day-to-Day Life

            It is important for the parent to be able to explain all of the activities that he/she does with and for the children.  It is especially helpful if the parent shows the evaluator pictures or videos of the activities they are describing.  Additionally, it is useful for a parent to bring pictures of the house and neighborhood to give the evaluator an idea of where the child will be staying. 

            Additionally, the parent should know the names of the children’s close friends and the names of their parents.  This shows that the parent is concerned about the child’s safety and about their social interaction with others.  It is important to let the evaluator know what the parent has done to socialize the child with other children, including play dates, birthday parties, etc…

            If the children have gone to church, temple, or synagogue, the parent should describe their religious experience and how he/she has attempted to educate the children in their faith.  However, if the parent does not typically go to church, he/she should not start going because this will appear deceptive to the evaluator.

Admitting Mistakes

            If a parent has made mistakes with the children, it is important to admit the mistakes and explain to the evaluator why it happened.  Disclosing a mistake is especially important since the evaluator will likely find out about the mistake from the other parent.  The parent must further demonstrate that he/she is allowing the children to make age appropriate decisions.  It is important for a parent to gradually give a child independence and decision-making authority so that by the time the child leaves home, he/she is able to be a successful and independent adult.

Approaching a custody evaluation can seem daunting.  Call the lawyers of Smith Strong at (804) 325-1245 or (757) 941-4298 to discuss effective ways to approach this evaluation.


H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg