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How to Conduct Yourself at a Child Custody Evaluation

Child custody evaluations are often used by the court when the case has a highly contested custody matter before it. The evaluator is able to speak to both parties with an objective perspective, as well as the children, and as a result their opinion is very important to the judge.

Do all the Easy Stuff

The easy stuff is things that you should be doing that goes without saying: showing up on time to the child custody evaluation and dressing appropriately, for example. You should act like you’re going on a job interview. Do not lie to the evaluator. They will be able to catch you if you are dishonest, and they usually have a sixth sense about whether someone is telling the truth. This goes double for any psychological tests you may be given, because they are designed to detect malingering, lying, and other defense mechanisms.

Answer What is Being Asked

This means listening to the questions you are being asked. Do not make assumptions, and if you are unclear about anything the evaluator is asking you, do not be afraid to ask for clarification. If the answer is something you think the evaluator may not want to hear, then just be direct and sincere. Do not embellish or try to explain away the facts. Be frank about your strong and weak qualities as a parent, and concentrate on the strong ones. Admit any errors you think you have made when questioned about them, and display remorse. A child custody evaluation asks you to take an honest look at the circumstances of your family. With that said, make sure you do not provide extraneous information. If you are afraid there will be some issues that do not get covered, bring a short list with you. If the evaluator does not ask you about some of your concerns, ask them if it would be alright if you could discuss these with them. But remember, these are professional people, and their time is important. This is not a counseling session or a chance to vent.

Be honest, but don’t be tactless

  This is not a chance for you to air your grievances against your spouse or ex-partner. If a question is presented where you think you can sling mud, resist the urge. Be just and fair about your spouse’s strong and weak qualities as a parent. If you do otherwise, then that could be an excuse for the evaluator to question your willingness and ability to co-parent. If you have honest, rational concerns about the other party’s ability to parent, you can tell the evaluator – but make sure they are rational concerns. For example, if you dislike your mother in law because she belongs to a different political party and your ex takes the kids over to Sunday dinner, this is not a rational concern. But, if your ex allows the children to stay up late with no bedtime on a school night, and consistently brings them to school late, this could be a legitimate concern. Obviously, if there are more serious issues such as drug abuse, mention this. But remember, the evaluator’s role is to determine the best interest of the child. Frame your concerns about the other parent in this context.

Remember, it is about the best interest of your children

 A child custody evaluation is supposed to help the court determine who is in the best position to offer the children the best environment to be raised in. An evaluator responsibility is to determine the type of relationship that exists between the children and parent, the type of environment the children will be in, a parent’s capability to relate to and respond to the emotional state of their children, whether the parents establish appropriate boundaries with their children, the existence of hostility between the spouses and how that hostility affects the children. While you are being evaluated, remember this, and put the needs of your children above your own personal feelings, and try to set aside any hurt or pain you feel from the divorce or breakdown of the relationship. It could backfire on you if you use this as an opportunity to bring the other spouse down. The evaluator will ask you questions that will tempt you – try to resist.

Do prepare your children – the right way

 The evaluator will be speaking to your children during the child custody evaluation process, so it is important you discuss with them what will happen. Of course, much of this depends on the age and maturity of your children, so speak to them as these circumstances demand. Tell them the evaluator is just trying to learn as much as they can about the family so that they can come to a resolution to make sure everyone can work together. Most importantly, do not coach your children, or ask them to badmouth the other parent. Not only is this damaging to the psyche of your children, but it could also be construed as parental alienation, and if the evaluator suspects this is happening, it could be detrimental to your case.

Follow up – if you are asked

  If your evaluator has asked you to bring additional documents that you did not have, make sure you follow through. Try to keep an open line of communication with the evaluator, if you have difficulty getting these documents. If you have any questions about the process of a child custody evaluation, or custody battles in general, call for a free initial consultation with the experienced family law attorneys of Law Office of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845 – 7400 today.


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