Child custody cases can often be contentious, expensive, and lengthy. Because of this, New Jersey courts have developed programs like mediation to assist parents in settling their differences outside of the courtroom. The Custody Neutral Assessment Program exists in some areas of New Jersey, mostly in the southern part of the state, though it is not specifically provided for in the child custody laws in NJ. A custody neutral assessment is used in a child custody case if the parents fail to reach an agreement through the initial mediation process, and is thought to be a less expensive and less time consuming of a process than otherwise lengthy custody evaluations. The assessment process takes approximately 3-4 hours, and costs vary depending on the location, but cost around $1,000 to perform (each parent paying half of the cost), which is significantly less than other options.
The Assessment Procedure
The assessment itself is conducted by a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist or social worker that is prequalified by the court to have the experience and skill necessary to conduct such an assessment. Despite the fact that mental health professionals perform the assessment, the assessment is not a psychological evaluation or testing, and does not involve treatment. The assessor meets with the parties to discuss the issues that cannot be agreed upon. The assessor will sometimes include the children or others involved in the family situation such as step-parents, if deemed appropriate considering the circumstances.
Scope of Assessment – Recommendations
At the conclusion of the interview(s), the assessor will prepare his or her recommendations about how to resolve the issues in dispute by the parents and deliver them to the court. The clinician’s recommendations may include parenting time and custody, as well as referrals for substance abuse evaluations, anger management classes, or related issues that are preventing the parties from agreeing on custody matters. The court will then schedule a case management conference and at that time determine whether it will accept, modify, or reject the recommendations of the evaluation. The recommendations are not binding on either party, each still has the ability to perform a full custody evaluation. Continue Reading →