You and your soon-to-be-ex have struggled to work out a custody agreement for your kids that will give you both the time with them and involvement in their lives that you want. However, you can't find common ground. There's too much animosity between you. You have no choice but to let a judge decide the matter.
If a judge wants more information before he or she makes a decision or perhaps one or both parents are arguing that the other one should have only limited custody or visitation, that judge may order a custody evaluation by a mental health professional.
What's involved in a custody evaluation? In most cases, the evaluator will:
- Interview each parent and the children separately -- likely multiple times.
- Observe each parent interact with the children. This may be done in the parent's home, in the evaluator's office or elsewhere.
- Interview other adults involved in the children's lives, such as teachers and doctors.
- Review all court documents related to the custody case as well as any documentation of legal actions that may be relevant.
- In some cases, conduct psychological tests on the children and parents.
- Present the findings to the judge for consideration as he or she makes the custody decision.
It's only natural to be anxious if you have to participate in a child custody evaluation or even be angry that one has been ordered. You may think it's obvious that you should have primary or sole custody of your child. However, it's essential not to reflect that as you interact with the evaluator.
It's important to be co-operative and prepared. When you meet with the evaluator, you'll likely be expected to provide case documents and other information. Have these ready.
Treat every interaction like you would a job interview. Be prompt, courteous and appropriately dressed. Don't lie, even if you think it's for the greater good.
Show the evaluator that you're interested in what's best for your children -- not for you. After all, that's what the evaluator and the judge are trying to determine.
Finally, listen to your Florida family law attorney. He or she has probably gotten to know you by now and can foresee areas that might be a problem for you during the evaluation. Further, your attorney has probably had other clients who have gone through this process and can offer guidance and advice. Take it.