Find out in advance what the evaluator’s procedures will be so that you can prepare yourself — emotionally as well as with any collateral information you wish to introduce into the evaluation. An example of such information is a list of people with whom you’d like the evaluator to speak. Once you know what to expect, you will be more comfortable with the process.
Generally, evaluations will consist of some combination of the following:
- Meeting with each parent and each child alone several times to learn family history, individual developmental histories, concerns and desires for the outcome of the dispute, strengths and areas of deficit, and how each parent thinks about the child as an individual
- Observing parent and child interactions to ascertain their relationship. Often the evaluator will make observations in each parent’s home so that the child is comfortable and the situation is at least as realistic as can be under the anxiety-rousing circumstances.
- Speaking with collateral sources: others who know the parties, especially the children
- Psychological assessment using standardized and open-ended questionnaires and instruments
- Assessing extended family and community networks of family members through discussion with family members, community sources, and/or observation
Criteria Considered In An Evaluation: The Best Interests of the Child
The methods used in an evaluation are designed to provide the court with information it needs to determine a child’s best interests when the parents cannot make such decisions for themselves. The term “Best Interests” has a legal history dating back to 1881, evolving over the years from a presumption in favor of fathers to one in favor of mothers throughout the 19th century. In response to changing social conditions that have brought more parity in social roles between men and women, gender is no longer viewed as the best basis for deciding child custody. More recently, the term has been interpreted to connote a variety of factors as determined by the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (1974), expounded upon by individual states. Each judge can give different weight to the factors which have been delineated as important.
Which factors any given judge will ascribe as most important will be determined on a case by case basis. This is one reason why it is so scary to let a judge decide for your family how your child’s living situation will be arranged. It is impossible for anyone, including the attorneys and mental health professionals involved, to predict the outcome any particular situation. For an article on child custody evaluations, click here.
The court will consider any and all of the following factors:
- The quality of the emotional ties between each parent and child
- The capacity of each parent to love, educate, guide, and raise the child
- The capacity of each parent to provide food, clothes and medical care
- Each parent’s special abilities and particular disabilities (e.g. health, mental health)
- The psychological functioning (at school, home, and in the community) and developmental needs of the child
- The child’s need for stability and continuity with regard to past living arrangements
- The parent’s values concerning parenting
- The potential for inappropriate behavior or misconduct that might negatively influence a child (e.g., alcohol or drug use, sexual conduct, criminal activity).
- A parent’s capacity to encourage the other parent’s relationship with the child
- The wishes of the child when the child is of sufficient age to articulate a well-reasoned preference (this age differs in different states but generally begins between ages of eight and twelve). For more information on custody evaluations, click here.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
For more information contact Peace Talks www.peace-talks.com
(C) 2008 Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc.
- Attorneys and Guardians for Children
- Drawbacks to Family Relations Officers
- Choosing an Evaluator
- The Special Features of a Contested Custody Case
- Can I Relocate?