By Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC
Let’s start with standards.
Child Custody Evaluation Standards. It’s a mouthful. What are they? What are they used for? Why are they important? In Part I of this guest blog post we’ll delve into these questions and more.
If you’re going through the process of divorce and have children, you may be facing a custody evaluation. These evaluations— used by the Court to determine how much custody and parenting time of the children you may be granted— are guided by certain Standards. Let’s look at some of the Standards the Court may use (bear in mind Standards may vary somewhat from state-to-state):
- Child Custody Evaluators should, at a minimum, have a highly specialized comprehension of and training in areas related to child custody. Evaluators should keep current of what is happening in the field. The education and training should include a master’s degree or Juris Doctor degree in an applicable field. The training itself should include the legal context within child custody and how parenting time issues are decided, as well as knowledge of the psychological assessment of children and adults, and family dynamics.
- Another highly important area of operating as a Child Custody Evaluator is communication. Informed consent is a good baseline of communication here, and, obviously, direct lines of communication are preferable to less communication. With that said, Evaluators are usually forbidden from ex parte communication with the Court, save for unusual or extraordinary circumstances.
- What is the scope of the custody evaluation? What are Evaluators privy to? What’s relevant in determining parenting time or custody? The scope of the evaluation should be outlined in a Court order, or a signed stipulation.
- Getting it right. The Evaluators should strive to get it right and gather their information with as much accuracy as possible. (Remember, family dynamics and the lives of parents and children may depend upon this.) They should use diverse methods (for instance, not just placing an untoward weight on one interview, or one expert’s opinion), and use time-tested methods. Most importantly the Evaluators must recognize (and acknowledge) their own biases, and strive to be independent, and disclose when any data is unreliable or missing.
- Speaking of parents… There may be several parental figures in a child’s life. Evaluators should observe as many parental figure/child dynamics as possible, and how they relate to the physical and psychological upbringing of the child.
- Collateral source information: what does it mean? Translated into layperson’s terms, it means the Evaluator should make sure several sources provide data on the parent/child dynamics, and that it be verified. (Or don’t just take one party’s word!) Plus, like everything else used to determine the outcome of the evaluation, the collateral sources must be disclosed.
If you’re going through the process of a child custody evaluation as a parent or a parental figure and you’ve read this far, take a deep breath. Remember the love of your child, and what you’re fighting for. And forgive yourself for the moments you don’t feel it’s progressing the way you want it to.
Obviously, the process of child custody evaluations is far-reaching and complex, and we’ll dive into more aspects in Part II. In the meantime, if you are in need of some help regarding child custody, then consider contacting experienced child custody lawyers to help you out with your situation.