Divorcing? Tennessee Parents Prepare for Child Custody Forensic Evaluations
Divorcing Germantown, Tennessee, parents should prepare themselves for the possibility of a child custody forensic evaluation. These evaluations are becoming more common in Germantown family court proceedings, particularly when parties cannot agree on a parenting plan.
When custody is a disputed issue in the divorce (or whenever the court deems an evaluation is necessary), each parent should ready themselves for a perfect stranger to enter into their courtroom arena. That stranger is known as the independent child custody evaluator. His or her final assessment and recommendations may be very persuasive with the judge. Never underestimate the impact of an evaluator’s report on a final child custody decision in the divorce.
Who Are The Forensic Evaluators?
For purposes of child custody, forensic evaluators are usually mental health professionals with doctoral degrees, such as psychologists and psychiatrists. Importantly, evaluators must remain neutral and refrain from advocating for or against either parent’s position on the custody issue. (Always look to your child custody lawyer to advocate your position on the legal issues.)
To assist the court and the parties in deciding what is best for each child, custody evaluators often have specialized training in all stages of child development; on the potential impact of domestic violence, abuse, and neglect on families; and on problems associated with drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions, to name only a few.
The forensic evaluator needs a good deal of information to make useful assessments about what is in the child’s best interests. As a parent, here’s a taste of what you can expect during the typical custody evaluation process:
● Evaluator conducts interviews with:
– both parents
– the child
– the child’s teachers
– daycare operators
– family doctors
– other individuals who are important to the child, such as extended family members
● Evaluator collects documentation, including:
– physicians’ progress notes
– academic reports
– medical records
– criminal records
● Evaluator assesses:
– both party’s parenting styles
– parenting skills given the age of the child
– a parent’s special knowledge in caring for a disabled child
– who has been the primary caregiver
– how financially stable the parents are
– what are the parents’ work schedules
– each parent’s relationship with the child
– what are the child’s educational requirements
– does the child have special needs
– is there any history of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect
– cultural and ethnic nuances
– religion in child-rearing
– the child’s preference for custody arrangements (mainly as to the preferred residential parent)
The evaluator is also very interested in how the parties’ relationship with each other might affect their ability to co-parent after the divorce is final.
It’s Always About the Child’s Best Interests
The court makes custody decisions based upon what is in the child’s best interests, at least in part. The custody evaluation is intended to provide the judge and the parents with an unbiased, thorough examination of the pertinent facts, with a fair analysis from a mental health expert.
When all is said and done in a process that may cost thousands of dollars and take months to complete, the evaluator prepares and submits a custody report to the court. Although the forensic expert’s report is not a decision on the matter, it may be very influential. Take the process seriously. Talk with your family lawyer about what to expect and be sure to discuss any particulars that are likely to come up during the evaluation (good and bad). Although not impossible by any means, attempting to overcome negatives in the evaluator’s report can be very challenging and expensive.
For more information, see Miles Mason, Sr.’s article published in the Tennessee Bar Journal, A Guide to the Independent Child Custody Evaluation.