Child Custody Evaluations

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Child Custody Evaluations

Child custody is often the most difficult issue for the parties in a family law proceeding. Because the outcome could possibly impact your relationship with your child for the rest of your life, few issues in family law are as personal or potentially damaging as a child custody case. For that reason, it is critical that parties in child custody disputes are properly advised as to the impact of California law on their circumstances so that their attorney can adequately represent them. Because the court will look at the “best interests of the child,” issues such as addiction, the child’s developmental needs, anger management, psychological history/treatments, and the like are all open for debate.

If you and the other parent of your child cannot agree on a custodial plan, you might be ordered to participate in a child custody evaluation. In short, a child custody evaluation is a process in which a mental health expert, usually a psychologist, evaluates your family and makes a recommendation to the court for a custodial or parenting plan that the evaluator determines is in your child’s best interest.

MNB recognizes that not all parties will have the financial ability to retain counsel; however, no party should go through an evaluation without some legal guidance and support. For that reason, MNB offers Evaluation Advisory Services to parties engaged in child custody evaluations. MNB’s experienced attorneys help guide you through the evaluation process in a reassuring and informative manner. Our attorneys inform clients of their rights and responsibilities and the applicable legal and functional procedures so they can understand what options are available to them and their children and how to best maximize their possibility of achieving the outcome they desire for their child custody evaluation.

The Child Custody Evaluation Process and MNB’s Services

First – What is a Child Custody Evaluation?

Aside from dealing with DCFS/CPS, a child custody evaluation may be the single most important, and at the same time unnerving, process a parent will face. In most cases, an evaluation is the custodial equivalent of arbitration. There is no encouragement to reach an agreement, you are in an evaluation because an agreement could not be reached and the court does not know what to do. The evaluator is the court’s expert charged with recommending a particular plan to the court and the parents. The evaluator gathers information about you, the other parent, your child or children, you and the other parent’s backgrounds, families, psychological histories, medical/medication histories, addiction histories, and other information, sometimes performs psychological testing on you and the other parent, and makes the recommendation based on the information received and obtained. Ideally, you and the other parent can use the evaluator’s recommendation to reach an agreement as to the custodial orders to be entered by the court. If that fails the judge uses the evaluation, along with other testimony and evidence (but usually relying heavily on the recommendations), to make an order regarding the custodial arrangement for your child.

Second – How MNB Can Help/What We Do

There are several steps in an evaluation and each step requires proper attention, information, and actions

Choosing an Evaluator

Choosing an effective and high-quality evaluator is of utmost importance. While many people believe “the more expensive, the better the evaluator” this is not always the case and the attorneys at MNB have worked with many of the evaluators in and outside of Los Angeles. While it is tempting to choose the least expensive available evaluator, it is always advisable to choose someone with experience and training specific to your needs, and MNB can help you in that process.

Many evaluators also have reputations that may be of benefit in your case. The experience of MNB’s attorneys allows our clients the benefit of information that they would not otherwise be able to obtain. You cannot trust what you read on the internet about evaluators, most people complaining about their evaluation are doing so because they did not get the result they wanted, not because the result was harmful to their child; however, if what is written is also what MNB’s attorney have experienced, we let you know and will steer you clear of that particular evaluator.

The Child Custody Evaluation Process

While no two evaluations are the same, there are certain things you can expect in all evaluations. These include:

  • At least two individual interviews with each child.
  • At least two individual interviews with each parent.
  • Observations of the child or children with each parent (either in-home, at the evaluator’s office, or both).
  • Interviews with collateral sources (e.g. therapists, teachers, day-care personnel, pediatricians, family members)
  • Review of court documents and other appropriate written information that is submitted by the parties.
  • A written report with specific recommendations about custody and visitation orders that also addresses all of the major concerns raised by you and the other parent.
  • Psychological testing, questionnaires, or both that help provide additional information about your emotional functioning or parenting style.

MNB’s attorneys will consult with you and advise you through each step of the evaluation process. We work with you on how to speak to the evaluator, how to speak about your children, how to speak about the other parent, what documents to present to the evaluator, what to do and not do during the observations of interactions between you and your child or children, how to approach the in-home visit, and the best way to approach the psychological testing.

Parenting during the Evaluation

Parenting your children during an evaluation is critical to a successful evaluation, but most parents either shy away from parenting their children “normally,” they over-parent, or are overly cautious during an evaluation, which provides a skewed view of their parenting skills to the evaluator. As part of our advisory services, MNB’s child custody evaluation attorneys in Woodland Hills help you navigate the parenting issues that arise during an evaluation. Whether it be “how do I tell my child about this?, “What if my child does not want to meet with the evaluator”, or that the other parent is attempting to use the evaluation to trap the client by trying to force the client to make agreements at the risk of looking uncooperative to the evaluator, there is always a positive, productive solution, and MNB’s attorneys help develop a plan and provide the information and advice you need to resolve the issues that arise.