There are a variety of cases involving child custody matters, including third party custody, de facto custodian custody, guardianships (and termination of guardianship), divorce, post divorce modification, relocation of a parent, and paternity. In fact, many of these types of cases can overlap and include more than one type. For example a post divorce decree custody modification can be as a result of the custodial parent relocating.
In many cases where custody, or even parenting time, is contested, the court and attorneys may utilize one of several types of evaluations to help provide the court with insight into the matter. The trial rules of evidence can be very strict regarding what evidence is admissible. The biggest hurdle to overcome in child custody cases is that anything the child says to a parent is “hearsay” and inadmissible as evidence. Meaning, the parent cannot testify as to what the child said to him or her, because the child is not there to testify that he or she actually said that or what they meant by what they said. This is difficult for many litigants because often the child is the best source of information. The following assessments / evaluations are done by “experts” and their ability to collect information and bring it to court is far broader in scope than typically the evidentiary rules would allow. For example, many can interview the children, talk with the parties, observe the parties with the children, and collect collateral resources, such as psychological practices and theories, statements of teachers, doctors, or other important individuals with information pertaining to the child and the situation.
5 common evaluations used in contested custody cases are as follows:
- Bonding Assessment – often used in third party or de facto custodian cases, these assessments are between the child and the party (or parties) the child is “bonded” to. These assessments can be helpful in showing that a child is bonded to a third party or de facto custodian as a child would be bonded to a mother/father.
- Phd Custody Evaluations – can be used in any time of contested custody case, including modification of parenting time, initial custody determinations, divorce, paternity, de facto custodian, termination of guardianship, etc. These evaluations are performed by a Phd level psychologist and follow a formal procedure, including psychological testing of the adult parties, observations with the parties and child, interviews with the child, collecting of collateral resources, and ultimately an opinion as to custody and parenting time.
- GAL – Guardian Ad Litem – is a court appointed advocate for a child in a contested custody case. GAL’s are generally attorneys or social workers. GAL’s typically do not make an ultimate recommendation to the court about custody, but gathers information from several sources and reports that to the court.
- DRCB – Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau – available for custody cases in Marion County Indiana (Indianapolis). DRCB is a court agency to assist families and courts in contested custody matters, including custody and parenting time disputes. Cases are referred to DRCB by court order. DRCB will collect information about the parties and child directly and through collateral sources (teachers, doctors, etc.) and prepare a report that is submitted to the Court with recommendations regarding what type of custody and parenting time arrangement would serve the child's best interests, along with additional recommendations for services which would enhance the family's functioning.
- Psychological Evaluation – this is more limited than a custody evaluation, though Phd custody evaluations do include psychological testing. This is an evaluation used when there are allegations or concerns about mental health of a party, such that it may affect the child(ren)’s wellbeing. Psychological Evaluations will include some psychological testing, observation, and background information about the party undergoing the evaluation.
We hope that you have found this information to be helpful in understanding some common evaluation tools utilized in child custody cases. This is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about your specific case, CIYOU & DIXON, P.C. can help evaluate your specific case. This blog post was written by Attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.