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What is a Custody Evaluation?
In a child custody evaluation, a mental health expert, usually a qualified psychologist, assesses you, your child, and your co-parent to make a recommendation to the court.1 During a custody evaluation, the court considers all relevant variables, including the mental health of the parties involved, to determine what is in the children’s best interests.
The court-required parenting assessments are included in the report, along with the evaluation’s findings and reasons one parent should be given custody over the other.2
The most frequent reason for conducting a child custody evaluation is when parents cannot agree on the specifics of their custody arrangement. In addition, a custody evaluation is often requested when one or both co-parents feel that their current custody arrangement doesn’t adequately care for their child or children.
Athena Care can provide an expert opinion in custody and parenting evaluations. Call us today to learn more. Or find out if insurance is able to cover this service with our form below.
What to Expect During a Custody Evaluation
A judge may order a custody evaluation if you and your spouse cannot agree on custody after trying mediation. Parents can still ask for this civil procedure if a judge doesn’t order one.
When parents cannot agree on custody or one parent feels the other is “unfit,” custody or parental fitness evaluations are typically necessary. A custody evaluator can investigate the validity of the parents’ arguments and assist a judge in deciding what type of custody arrangement is suitable for the child.
The court will then determine custody and visitation. The judge may make their own decisions based on the evaluation report, as they are not required to contend with the evaluators’ custody recommendation.
For most co-parents, going through a child custody evaluation is incredibly stressful. Even if you are an excellent parent to your child, being anxious during a parenting evaluation may alter how you behave. To prevent that from happening, you can do things to reduce your stress, like:
- Cooperate with the assessor. Even if you disagree with the child custody evaluation, you should take part to prevent giving the assessor the wrong impression.
- Be sure to dress appropriately, be on time, and be self-assured.
- Be organized and prepared in advance.
- Make sure whatever you do or say is in the best interests of the child.
- Ask your lawyer for advice on creating a list of referral-related inquiries. Referral questions can ensure that any concerns are addressed if there are particular areas to which the evaluator has to pay close attention.
The mental health professional assigned to your case will often follow an evaluation process similar to the following:
- The parenting evaluation will involve the evaluator speaking with each co-parent several times in separate interviews.
- They will speak separately with the child or children involved in the case on several occasions.
- They will observe when each co-parent engages with the child, whether at the office or at home.
- Interviews with other family members, teachers, babysitters, and healthcare professionals, may also be conducted.
- Any member of the family may be subjected to a custody psychological evaluation.
- Additionally, they will examine earlier court and legal proceedings involving the divorce and custody dispute.
- The assessor may also review student report cards, attendance, and health records.
It could take many weeks to complete the custody evaluation process. The custody evaluator will deliver the report to you, your spouse, and the court. The evaluator will advise the court to award joint custody to both parents or sole physical and legal custody to one parent. All of their conclusions and suggestions for how custody ought to be decided are contained in this report.
For example, the report may suggest actions for the following:
- Time-sharing, visitation, and custody
- Suggestions for individual or family therapy
- How to resolve future family disputes
- The consequences of a parent’s problems, such as drug usage or mental health disorders
- A suggestion for a follow-up evaluation, particularly if your children are still very young
Example Evaluation Questions
- Are you the legal parent of these children?3
- What is your income now? Has this recently changed?
- What health challenges have your children faced?
- What activities make your children happy?
- What time do your kids depart for school, and when do you leave for work in the morning?4
- Do you put in any extra time at work? How often and when?
- Do you work on the weekends?
- Which clothing size is your child currently wearing?
- What’s your child’s favorite subject in school?
- Who makes your child’s meals?
Who Pays for a Court Ordered Custody Evaluation?
If the court ordered services involve a custody evaluation by a county evaluator, the involved parties pay a significantly lower rate than if a private evaluator is hired.5 For example, a court evaluation can cost between $1,000 and $2,500, whereas a private evaluator may cost as much as $10,000.
However, hiring your own private professionals may be in your best interest. You can each employ your own evaluators if you and your ex-spouse agree to a custody evaluation but cannot agree on the evaluator. With multiple evaluation clinics in Tennessee that perform mental health testing and assessments, finding a professional qualified in custody evaluation services is a smooth process.
Can I Refuse a Custody Evaluation?
In Tennessee, you have 30 days after being served to file a response at the court address shown on the complaint or petition. If you don’t reply, the plaintiff may request that a default judgment be entered, which means you have no further say in the matter.6 If you refuse to comply, there’s a chance the court may hold you in contempt.
Furthermore, talk to your attorney immediately if concerns arise or if there are any conflicts of interest throughout the custody evaluation process. This can include conduct exhibiting a strong bias in favor of your former spouse or asking questions you feel are inappropriate.
Speak with your attorney before the evaluation report is submitted. Bringing up your issues after the custody evaluation has been submitted may result in the judge not taking them seriously.
- What You Need to Know About Child Custody Evaluations. www.ourfamilywizard.com/blog/child-custody-evaluation. Accessed 30 Sept. 2022.
- Doskow, Emily Attorney. “Child Custody Evaluations.” www.divorcenet.com, 15 Oct. 2021, www.divorcenet.com/resources/divorce/divorce-and-children/child-custody-evaluations-during-di.
- Questions to Ask in a Custody Case (and Ones to Expect). www.custodyxchange.com/topics/custody/advice/questions-to-ask.php. Accessed 30 Sept. 2022.
- “What Not to Say When Testifying in Child Custody.” Law For Families, 12 Feb. 2021, www.lawforfamilies.com/12722935-what-not-to-say-when-tesifying-in-child-custody.html.
- Editorial Staff. Costly Child Custody Evaluations | Divorce Source. www.divorcesource.com/blog/costly-child-custody-evaluations. Accessed 30 Sept. 2022.
- Filing for Child Custody in Tennessee: 5 Detailed Steps (TN). www.custodyxchange.com/locations/usa/tennessee/filing.php. Accessed 30 Sept. 2022.
If you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from mental health disorders, contact Athena Care today.
One of our friendly associates will help you get the help you need. Take this first step to feel better and take control.