Child Custody Evaluations
In any divorce involving minor children, one important issue that must be decided is child custody, known in Florida as timesharing. Hopefully, the parents will be able to come to an agreement on the matter, but when they do not, the court must make custody decisions. Florida law requires the court to make decisions that are in the child’s best interests. In figuring out what those best interests are, the court may take into account a child custody evaluation.Evaluators
A child custody evaluation is made by a licensed psychologist who is a neutral third party. The evaluator makes recommendations to the judge about custody and timesharing issues. In Florida, evaluators must follow the guidelines established by the American Psychological Association for child custody evaluations.Process
The goal of the evaluation process is to help the evaluator get enough information about the parents and child in order to make custody recommendations to the judge. The evaluator may interview the parents, the child, friends, neighbors, teachers, grandparents, other extended family, etc. He or she will also spend time with the child with each parent to observe parenting and interactions. The evaluator will examine documents such as school records and court files. The children and the parents may sometimes undergo psychological testing.The Report
In the report, the evaluator summarizes his or her findings and makes recommendations to the court. The report may include:
- A report of each parent’s opinion about the parenting strengths and weaknesses both of him or herself and of the other parent;
- Summarized statements from witnesses who have been interviewed, such as doctors, neighbors, teachers, etc.;
- Summaries of any documents that the evaluator has examined and considered;
- A report of any psychological tests conducted, and what they reveal about each parent’s abilities; and
- Any information that the evaluator got from speaking with the children.
The evaluator will also make recommendations to the court regarding:
- The parenting plan and timesharing;
- Implementing the plan and resolving any future disputes;
- Therapy or parenting classes;
- Any concerns about abuse or violence; and
- Whether and when reevaluations would be necessary.
Typically, the court gives these evaluations great weight because they come from an impartial third party who is not prejudiced for or against either spouse. Courts may, though rarely do, disregard the report and recommendations. It is important to remember, though, that the report is only one piece of evidence among many. For example, some children may have guardians ad litem, who are assigned to represent the child’s interests and whose testimony and recommendations also hold great weight with courts.Expense
A child custody evaluation can cost up to several thousand dollars. The court decides who should bear the cost of the evaluation. It may assign the full cost to either parent, or, more commonly, split the cost between the parents.
Custody disputes can be time-consuming, expensive, and damaging to familial relationships. An attorney can help you find the best solution for your family. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein today for a free initial consultation.