Evaluations are only available when a judge determines that an evaluation is necessary and orders Family Court Services to provide the service.
Why would we have an evaluation?
Parents sometimes have disagreements about how to share decision making and time with their children. Intense feelings come up during these periods of disagreement that make it hard for parents to be objective about the best interests of their children. The Court recognizes this fact and orders parents to participate in a Custody and/or Parenting Time Study.
What is the goal?
A Custody/Parenting Time Evaluation is intended to ensure the best possible outcome for children. The Court may use the evaluation to help reach a decision about custody and parenting time if the parents are not able to negotiate a plan themselves.
Who performs the evaluation?
The evaluation is conducted by a Family Court Services Counselor in the role of an evaluator. The evaluators are master’s level mental health professionals who meet education and training standards to complete child custody evaluations. Family Court Services Counselors are guided by agency policy and State and National professional standards in conducting their evaluations.
The evaluator’s role is to assess families and make recommendations to the Court about custody and parenting time. Evaluators are impartial/neutral and do not take the side of one parent. Their focus is on the child’s best interest. Evaluators are mandatory reporters. That means that information about harm to a child or adult, or information about outstanding criminal warrants must be reported to appropriate agencies.
What do evaluators assess?
Evaluators use a mental health perspective in evaluations. The fact or fiction of specific events or behaviors may be assessed, but always in light of the impact upon the parent-child relationship. The assessment is largely based on our evaluation of the following factors:
- The child’s needs, based on their age and developmental level, attachment to each parent, and individual personality, thoughts and feelings.
- The ability, stability, mental health and maturity of each adult as a parent.
- The desirability of continuing existing relationships and environments.
- The relationship between the parents and each parents’ ability to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
- The plan presented for the day-to-day needs of the child.
- Any patterns of substance use, child abuse or family violence
What is the process?
The usual procedure is for an evaluator to interview each parent, and when appropriate, the children. A home visit may be necessarily as part of our evaluation. With your consent, the evaluator may seek information from references you provide, professionals in the community such as teachers, mental health professionals and other agency staff.
Information provided during the evaluation is not confidential and may appear in a written report to the court. Evaluators may review personal references if they feel they are relevant.
In most cases, the evaluator will write a report summarizing the family dynamics, addressing the parents’ concerns, and suggesting a plan that will best meet the needs of the children involved. A copy of this report will be sent to your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, you will be provided the report. The evaluator may testify in Court.