Guidance from an experienced Divorce Attorney
Divorce is messy. There is no way around that. It is even more difficult when there are children involved because it is no longer just two adults deciding to part ways. If there are children and deciding what is best for them is highly contested, then there is a chance that a child custody evaluation will be part of the divorce proceedings. If that is the case, it’s smart to have an expert attorney on your side.
A child custody evaluation is something that should not be asked for lightly. It can be expensive and should not be just another pawn in the game of divorce that you are playing with your spouse. If there is a valid concern regarding where your children should live and what rights the parents should have regarding them, a child custody evaluation can be a very helpful tool in settling those issues. Child custody evaluations are prominent in cases where one of the parents has a struggle with addiction, especially if the addiction has not been treated yet, or the parent is newly sober. The child custody evaluation is a good idea if you think the other parent should have supervised visits or restricted possession and access. A child custody evaluation typically starts with one party requesting for the court to grant an order for a child custody evaluation. If the court grants this order, they will typically ask if the parties can agree on an evaluator. If the parties can agree they can move forward with that evaluator, if the parties cannot agree the court will typically appoint an evaluator.
The basic elements of a child custody evaluation are laid out in the Family Code. While each evaluator may do things slightly differently the basic elements will remain the same. According to § 107.109(c) of the Family Code, the basic elements of a child custody evaluation consist of:
- a personal interview of each party seeking conservatorship of, possession of, or access to the subject child;
- interviews of each subject child, who is at least four years old, during a period of possession of each party but outside the presence of the party;
- observation of each subject child in the presence of each party (with a few exceptions);
- observation and interview (if at least four) of any child who is not a subject of the suit but lives on a full-time basis in a residence that is subject of the evaluation;
- obtaining information from relevant collateral sources such as:
- school records;
- physical and mental health records;
- criminal history information relating to each subject child, each party, and each person who lives with one of the parties;
- an unredacted copy of any investigative record regarding abuse or neglect that relates to any person residing in the residence subject to the evaluation; and
- other collateral sources that may have relevant information;
- consideration of criminal history information and any contact with the department or a law enforcement agency regarding abuse or neglect; and
- assessment of the relationship between each child who is the subject of the suit and each party seeking possession of or access to the subject child.
The child custody evaluation will typically begin with an individual interview with the evaluator. You will discuss your relationship with the child or children in question, your relationship with your ex, and your parenting style. This would also be a good time to tactfully, but honestly, bring up any concerns you have regarding the other parent’s parenting skills. This initial visit will also typically involve you providing information to the evaluator through paperwork including a list of people who know you and your parenting style. The evaluator will also come to do a home visit. They will be looking at things like if the child has their own place to sleep, is the house clean, or is it baby proofed if the child is very young. If age-appropriate the evaluator will also interview the child. This process will be conducted with each party of the suit. Some evaluators may choose to do follow-up interviews as well.
While a child custody evaluation can sound intimidating, it is a necessary tool in some cases. The report can be viewed by the court and help them make a determination for custody, but the evaluator does not have the power to make any orders regarding the custody of the subject child. The best way to prepare for a custody evaluation is to keep in mind what is in the best interest of your child and to hire an excellent attorney with the ability to guide you through the process.