For divorcing parents who cannot come to an agreement on child custody arrangements, you may be asked by the family court judge to take part in a child custody evaluation. A court-appointed mental health expert will normally conduct the evaluation of your minor child in an effort to help the judge decide who will retain primary custody. It's definitely in your own best interest to be as prepared for this evaluation as possible since the evaluator's opinion carries quite a bit of weight in the judge's decision. Read on for easy to follow tips to get through your child custody evaluation successfully.
- The overall principle to keep in mind during child custody evaluations is that the evaluator and the family court judge have one primary overriding credo: the best interest of the child. If you can remember to put your child first in all interactions with the evaluator, you can demonstrate your willingness to put aside your own personal feelings for the sake of your children. For example, you may agree to be more generous with weekend, vacation and holiday visitation if your spouse resides in an area with more recreation opportunities.
- The evaluator recognizes that there is no such thing as being a perfect parent, and your ability to own up to your shortcomings and provide evidence of planned improvements will only serve to make you look honest and flexible, both prime qualities for good parenting.
- Family court judges and evaluators tend to look favorably on parents who place an emphasis on the child spending time with the other parent.
- Don't be tempted to prepare your children for the evaluation by coaching them. The evaluators are experienced in interviewing children and parents, and will likely be able to tell that you have coached them.
- When asked for your opinion of the other parent, resist the urge to vent about your feelings and speak negatively about your spouse. Try to list the other parent's good qualities, and keep the less desirable traits minimized.
- The evaluator is there to do an important job, so don't look at the interview time as an opportunity to seek parenting advice from the evaluator. It's not appropriate and can make you appear to be less confident in your parenting skills. If the evaluator provides you with advice, however, accept it graciously.
A local divorce attorney (such as Harold Salant Strassfield & Spielberg) may be able to assist you further in preparation for this important process by providing you with more specific local advice, such as personal knowledge of the evaluator and local customs.