A Custody Evaluation is a procedure ordered by a court in a custody case in which a professional is appointed to recommend to the judge which custody arrangement is in the best interest of the minor children.
It is normal in contested child custody cases for the court to appoint a custody evaluator to investigate all the circumstances in a particular case and make a recommendation to the court regarding what is in the best interests of the children.
A Custody Evaluator may also serve as a Guardian ad-litem in the case or may be a separate individual.
Qualifications, experience and aptitude vary widely across the board for these evaluators. therefore it is in your best interest to speak with your attorney before filing for divorce about what options you have to try to influence the court to appoint the best, most qualified, experienced custody evaluator available. In some cases, the attorneys can negotiate and agree upon a recommendation to the court that all parties can agree upon in advance.
As is the case for a guardian ad-litem, A Custody Evaluator is going to want to interview all the parties involved in the children's lives before going to trial:
- The minor children
- Both parents
- Other family members involved, including grandparents, siblings, step-parents etc.
- Professionals who have knowledge of the children's well-being including school teachers, child care providers, pediatricians, health care providers, social workers, therapists etc.
The custody evaluator will normally want to visit the homes of both parents who are seeking custody of the minor children to observe the interaction between the parents and the children at home, see the sleeping arrangements, observe the general appearance and conditions of the living quarters and the parenting skills of the parties "in action" This will usually last for an hour or two.
The custody evaluator will normally produce a written report at the end of their investigation which will be submitted to the court at trial. the report will normally include a description of what the custody evaluator has observed and conclude with a recommendation to the judge about what custodial arrangement is in the children's best interests.
It is highly unusual at trial for a judge, who has not spent time getting to know the parties involved, to deviate from what the custody evaluator, who has spent time interviewing all the relevant parties, recommends.
It is very common for the evaluator to present the report to both parents and to the attorneys prior to trial and try to convince them to settle the case before going to court.