In Part I of this blog post, two of the “mistakes” that often occur by nothing more than human nature in a custody evaluation were discussed: (1) trying to answer psychological testing in a favorable way, and (2) coaching children to a degree before a custody evaluation.
It is important to be aware of these because they can occur at the unconscious level–engaging in these behaviors without realizing it. By realizing these common mistakes or issues, a parent can make the most of his or her custody evaluation, and ultimately, to act in their child’s best interests. Below in Part II are the remaining three (3) common mistakes parents should avoid during custody evaluations.
3. Not realizing when the observation begins.
A custody evaluation is mostly conducted within the office of the evaluator. However, there are other times a parent is being observed that may factor into the professional’s determinations and suggestions.
Most commonly, parents’ actions in the waiting room can be taken into account by the evaluator. So, if a parent is ignoring the children or not interacting appropriately with the other parent (making snide comments or even making faces at the other parent), the evaluator may make note of this.
Further, if the parent then enters the evaluation and acts an entirely different way, the evaluator may note that the parent is not acting in a way consistent with his or her custody objectives, and is trying to present themselves in a positive, but not natural light.
Be cognizant of the fact that a custody evaluation is to determine how you interact with and co-parent your children. The observation begins from your first contact with the evaluator and continues until the report is complete. Be knowledgeable of your behavior, and put your best foot forward from the beginning. This is different than trying to fake what you think the evaluator wants to see or hear.
4. Not knowing what type of evaluator is right for you.
A custody evaluation may be performed by a number of different types of professionals, and depending on the parents’ issues, several types of evaluators may be appropriate. A MSW (Master of Social Work) is a good fit for two (2) parents who have few issues other than actually deciding which parent should be the custodial parent and working out parenting time in the child’s best interests.
A MSW can evaluate both parents generally, and generally much faster and with reduced cost, without delving in as much into the mental health of the parents, and can make a recommendation based on the other factors involved in the custody dispute. This type of evaluator is a good choice in some of the less complicated custody matters.
On the other hand, if a party suffers from mental health issues, addiction, or there are allegations of abuse and neglect that are driving the custody dispute, it is likely more appropriate for a clinical psychologist, perhaps using the services of a psychiatrist, to perform the custody evaluation to ensure that the appropriate battery of tests are offered and the interview includes focusing on those potential issues.
Knowing the issues that may arise during a custody evaluation and the concerns of both parents can help determine the type of custody evaluator that is most appropriate, and can best sort through any potential concerns or worries. This is an important concept to cover with your attorney. The more educated about your case you are the better you can relay the dynamics to the attorney to help you determine if a custody evaluation is a good tool to use in your case.
5. Not offering the complete picture.
Often, a custody evaluation falls in the middle of a contentious divorce and/or custody proceeding, and there are heightened emotions from both parties. Also, accusations by both parents are often going back and forth and as such, the threat of losing custody is a real possibility.
As a result, in some custody evaluations, one parent is so focused on one issue that they are unhappy with that they neglect to show their good light or the other issues with co-parenting. For example, if a parent is unhappy that the other parent can never return the child in the right clothes, and fixates on this and brings it up multiple times, the evaluator may find that parent is being unreasonable or cannot see the true, full picture because so much time is dedicated to this very narrow issue.
Certainly, if there are concerns, note them to the custody evaluator, but remain aware that there is only a certain amount of time a parent has to share information. If you make a point, unless the evaluator asks for more information, move onto other points, and keep the evaluation moving. This will allow a parent time to both explain all issues with co-parenting and note the positive relationship between himself/herself and the child.
A custody evaluation can be a stressful time, and certainly, there are very serious issues at stake. By being aware of potential pitfalls, and avoiding them while answering and acting as truthfully and honestly as possible, a parent can avoid making these common mistakes. This fosters a more complete and accurate custody evaluation process to the end of meeting the child’s best interests.
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., we frequently see custody evaluations as a part of litigation. These are important legal tools, the most of which can be made of by avoiding these pitfalls. We hope that this blog has been helpful in highlighting that it is ultimately best for parents to be themselves and avoid trying to “sway” an evaluation. This will help the evaluator help you obtain recommendations in the best interest of the child. If this blog post has added to your background knowledge and made you a more informed litigant, it has met its job.
This blog post was written by attorney Jessica Keyes, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C.