Custody evaluations are very important in determining child custody and access during contested divorce proceedings. Divorce courts give considerable weight to the recommendations of the evaluator. In addition, the participates are usually extremely nervous about the process.
As such, before an evaluation, I try to meet with my clients to let them know what to expect. I also try to give them some basic guidelines as to how to act.
Below are some guidelines that will assist a person to prepare for your custody evaluation with the expectation of ending your custody battle.
• Arrive on time at your custody evaluation interview.
• Dress neatly and conservatively.
• Be honest. The custody evaluator will likely check out your statements with collaterals and/or other sources.
• If the custody evaluator chooses to use psychological testing, ABSOLUTELY answer honestly. The tests are designed to detect defensiveness and lies and unless you are an expert in psychometric testing, you are unlikely to fool them.
• Be sincere. The custody evaluator can usually detect over embellishment and insincerity.
• It’s all right to be nervous; most people are.
• It’s all right to cry and/or show emotion; many people do.
• Answer questions directly and to the point.
• Make sure you pay attention to what the evaluator is asking.
• Take your time when answering a question. If you do not understand what is being asked, feel free to ask the evaluator to explain what he/she means.
• If the custody evaluator asks that you provide additional documentation, do so as promptly as possible or communicate any concerns about getting it.
• If you provide the custody evaluator with names of collateral contacts, it is a good idea to inform them in advance that they may be contacted so that they can prepare to speak on your behalf.
• If the custody evaluator is observing you with your child(ren), be attentive to their needs and focus on their interests and not yours.
• Present yourself as being reasonable and placing the concerns of your child(ren) above all.
• Relax and let the best aspects of your personality come out (patience, humor, concern for the child(ren)’s well being, etc.)
The following is a list of things to avoid doing during a custody evaluation
• DO NOT speak badly of your spouse/partner unless the custody evaluator asks you to comment on what you perceive to be the problems between you.
• DO not make threatening comments about your spouse/partner or anyone else to the evaluator.
• DO NOT harass the custody evaluator with phone calls.
• DO NOT drop by the evaluator’s office without an appointment.
• DO NOT call the custody evaluator to see if the report is completed.
• DO NOT prep your child(ren) to say negative things about their other parent. The custody evaluator has ways of telling if this has happened.
• Custody evaluators recognize the stress people are under during this process and take this into account when assessing family members.
• If you are feeling stressed and anxious, it is all right to acknowledge it and allow the custody evaluator to help allay some of your concerns.
The following is a list of things that the evaluator is looking for:
• Empathy (the ability to understand what the children are feeling and the willingness to react appropriately)
• Setting appropriate boundaries
• Proper environment and proper care providers
• A loving relationship between you and your child(ren)
• Behavior supportive of the relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent
• Behavior which demonstrates that you are striving to keep the child(ren) insulated from the conflict
• Lack of hostility toward your spouse. (Speak of past problems in a matter-of-fact way, indicating that you these things behind you)
Custody evaluators recognizes that there are no perfect parents and his or her recommendations should be directed at determining the best parenting arrangement to meet your child(ren)’s needs.
The following is a list of other general tips:
• Do not make derogatory remarks about the other parent in general, and especially not to or in front of the child(ren)
• Do not make derogatory remarks about the other parent’s family in general, and especially not to or in front of the child(ren)
• Do not use the child(ren) as messengers
• Do not refuse to talk to the other parent regarding the child. This does not mean that you should have to accept abusive communications.
• If you are the non-custodial parent, do not leave the child with babysitters excessively.
• Communicate with the child(ren)’s educators and health care providers.
• Do not keep the child(ren) involved in activities from dawn until bedtime.
• Do not be inflexible regarding parenting time issues.
• Do not allow a new significant other to get involved in the custody dispute.
Also, be cognizant that some evaluators ask provocative questions, apparently aligning with you, to get a response. Do not take the bait even if you think that the evaluator agrees with you that the other spouse did something wrong. Rather, stick to the rules set forth above to minimize being tripped up.