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Custody Evaluations Explained

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Dear Carolyn:

The court has just ordered me to participate in a child custody evaluation with a local psychologist.  My children are seven and thirteen. I am a concerned Father, and the Mother has a new boyfriend that is “no good”. This new boyfriend is terrible around my children, and he is even spending the night with the Mother while the children are there. I disapprove of this. I also think the boyfriend is drinking and driving with the children in the vehicle.

What is a child custody evaluation?

Carolyn Answers….

A legitimate child custody evaluation is a complex process performed by a North Carolina licensed psychologist (PhD) under guidelines established by the American Psychological Association (APA).  The APA adopted and published Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings in 1994, which were updated in 2009.

Here are the typical stages of a child custody evaluation, where there are no sexual abuse or other abuse allegations.

  1. Initial interview of each parent and general information gathering: The psychologist has an initial meeting with each parent and receives information from the parent, which includes general background, education, employment, family of origin, education, medical issues, stressors, and anything else of general relevance to the matter. Information gathering might be police reports, letters from attorneys, previous psychological evaluations, mental health records, school records, and similar information. Be sure to tell the custody evaluator about the boyfriend, the drinking, and your concerns in your first interview. The psychologist may decide to seek an interview with the boyfriend, and certainly the psychologist will gather information from the Mother and the children on this boyfriend.
  2. Test Administration to the Parents: Most typically in our area, the psychologists use the MMPI-2 for objective testing. This test is comprised of 567 true-false questions. While there is much research regarding how to interpret the results, the test remains controversial for use in child custody evaluations, so the evaluator has to be careful with regard to the use of any objective testing.
  3. Interview of the children: The psychologist will meet with your child.
  4. Observation of the children with each parent: The psychologist will typically have at least one session with each parent and the children, unless there are allegations of abuse. If there are allegations of abuse the psychologist may not select to place the child with an alleged abuser.
  5. Collaterals: the psychologist will get a list of people that each parent requests to be interviewed. This list might include neighbors, school teachers, counselors, grandparents, and perhaps other caretakers of the children.
  6. The Report: The psychologist will write a confidential report with the findings of one through five above. Then, the psychologist will make recommendations to the court for the best interests of the child. Normally, the parents are allowed to read the report in his/her attorney’s office, but the parent is not given a copy of the report. The parent typically receives a copy of the recommendations section from his/her attorney.
  7. The Court: The court receives the report and considers it, but is not required to follow any of the report. That said, many judges give great weight to child custody evaluation.