If you and your spouse are unable to agree on a custody and parenting time arrangement during your divorce, you may need to undergo a child custody evaluation. These evaluations, performed by forensic psychologists who have specific training and experience in family-related matters, help judges make custody determinations when divorcing parents are unable to come to terms on their own.
Since custody determinations require a careful assessment of the “best interests of the child,” judges often rely heavily on evaluators’ opinions in deciding how to divide custody and parenting time in contested divorces.
Understanding the Child Custody Evaluation Guidelines
While these guidelines provide a structure and methodology for evaluators, they are non-binding, and evaluators will typically consider a wide range of factors in deciding what recommendations to submit to the judge.
The current guidelines, which have been in place since 2009, include:
- The purpose of the evaluation is to assist in determining the psychological best interests of the child.
- The child’s welfare is paramount.
- The evaluation focuses on parenting attributes, the child’s psychological needs, and the resulting fit.
- Evaluators strive to establish the scope of the evaluation in a timely fashion, consistent with the nature of the referral question.
- Evaluators strive to obtain appropriately-informed consent.
- Evaluators strive to employ multiple methods of data gathering.
- Evaluators strive to interpret assessment data in a manner consistent with the context of the evaluation.
- Evaluators strive to complement the evaluation with the appropriate combination of examinations.
- Evaluators strive to base their recommendations, if any, upon the psychological best interests of the child.
- Evaluators create and maintain professional records in accordance with ethical and legal obligations.
You can find more information about all of the guidelines – and how they impact the evaluation process – on the APA’s website.
The rationale and application of each of these guidelines are well worth reading for any parent who is preparing to undergo a child custody evaluation.
Preparing for a Child Custody Evaluation
In order to achieve the best possible outcome from a child custody evaluation, there are a number of steps that divorcing parents can take to prepare. This includes both getting ready to represent oneself in the best possible light and knowing the types of mistakes that can lead to less-favorable evaluations. While all parents who are preparing to undergo child custody evaluations should seek legal advice tailored to their unique personal and family circumstances, the following are some general guiding principles that can help with the process.
Tips for Getting Ready:
- Make sure you know where and when your evaluation will take place, map your route so you know how long it will take to get there and prepare to leave early so that you arrive on time.
- Be truthful with the evaluator. Dishonesty is something that evaluators look for; and, if you misrepresent information about yourself or your spouse, this could have an unfavorable impact on your evaluation.
- Be prepared to be nervous. It is normal to be nervous in this type of situation, and the more you can do to prepare yourself in advance, the more comfortable you will feel during your evaluation.
- Be open to providing the evaluator with any requested documentation. If you cannot provide it immediately, simply explain what you need to do and when you expect to have it available. If you have any concerns, speak with your attorney before providing any documents.
- Know that the evaluator may ask you for references, and speak with anyone who you intend to offer as a reference so that he or she knows to expect a call.
Mistakes to Avoid:
- Not having appropriate childcare arrangements in place for your evaluation.
- Ignoring your children’s needs if they are present during the evaluation.
- “Badmouthing” your spouse or instructing your children to do so.
- Guessing at the “right” answer to a question or attempting to answer a question you do not understand.
- Exaggerating or embellishing what you believe to be your most-favorable characteristics.
Schedule a Confidential Consultation
For more information about when the New Jersey courts require child custody evaluations, what you can expect during your evaluation, and what you can do to prepare, we encourage you to schedule a confidential initial consultation. To speak with a Hackensack, NJ divorce lawyer at MR. Men’s Rights Divorce & Family Law of New Jersey by Schultz & Associates, LLC, please call (201) 880-9770 or contact us online today.