Advice To My Client For A Custody Evaluation

Dear Client:

As you know, a custody evaluation has been ordered in your case. We have already discussed the particular custody evaluator (the “Evaluator”) appointed and I’ve provided to you my insights regarding him or her. The following are some general thoughts on handling the custody evaluation.

During the evaluation, you may call or visit me any time you have questions or need to talk. Please let me see any paperwork before you submit it to the Evaluator. I would like a chance to review it and possibly weigh in on its content and appropriateness. As well, I would like to meet with you prior to your engaging in the interview process.

Please approach the process with a positive attitude. The court has ordered an evaluation and it will therefore be completed in your case. We both need to be as cooperative as possible with the Evaluator, which means being available for appointments, arriving on time, and providing him or her with the information requested. Not doing these things (or worse, being hostile to the process) may create a negative impression of you generally and call into question your responsibility, judgment, and decision-making ability. And, of course, none of that is good for a custody evaluation.

Keep in mind that this evaluation process is about your children. You must distinguish between your problems with the other parent (e.g., your dislike of him/her) versus the real parenting issues in this case. Please focus on the real parenting issues. If the fact or the matter affects the children or the other party’s ability to parent, then it’s fair game; but if not, even if it’s something that frustrates you, it’s not particularly relevant.

I would like to meet with you prior to your interview with the Evaluator. In preparation for our meeting and the subsequent interview, please make some notes about important concerns and organize the information you want to share with the Evaluator. Prepare the documentation that supports your assertions and/or disproves the other parent's claims, e.g., text messages, emails, calendars, pictures, recordings, school records, medical records, and/or financial records. Please don’t overwhelm the Evaluator with unnecessary or irrelevant information or, for that matter, make him/her figure out the relevant parts. Ask yourself whether the evidence addresses the issues you have concerns about or counters the other parent’s concerns. If it does, it will help your credibility and case. If not, it’s not necessary, and may, in fact, have an adverse impact.

During the interview (and any subsequent contact with the Evaluator), be pleasant and try to make a good impression, without being fake or ingratiating. He/she is a professional and will likely detect your level of sincerity and honesty. Please keep in mind that nobody is perfect, neither you nor the other parent. So when you speak with the Evaluator, be fair, accurate and candid. When you’re asked to assess the other parent’s strengths and weaknesses or your own, do so in a balanced and realistic way.

Some specific points to remember:

Please be:
•Nice, and sincere;
•Professional and respectful (which means being punctual and responsible);
•Fair, realistic and reasonable;
•Calm and relaxed;
•To the point. Listen carefully to the question and answer it directly;
•Honest with all answers. If you don’t know an answer, just say so. Don’t guess and, if you don’t understand a question, ask the Evaluator for clarity.

Please don’t:
•Disparage the other parent. Let the facts speak for themselves; there is no need for inflammatory language;
•Get angry or emotional;
•Argue with the Evaluator.

As to the psychological/personality portion of the evaluation, the tests are intended to provide some objective measure of your personality. It’s therefore very important that all your responses are honest. It’s a bad idea to provide inaccurate answers because you think you’ll look good or better. The tests are designed to expose when you do that. The best approach is to just relax and answer the questions honestly, without thinking about what the Evaluator is looking for or what the “right” answer may be.

The Evaluator will ask you to interact with the children (while s/he’s watching, of course), to see the quality of your relationships and how you relate to them and visa versa. Just be normal with them. You want them to relax and be normal too — and the best way to accomplish that is to remember that your children will take their cues from how you behave. If the children sense that you’re nervous or uncomfortable, they will probably be that way too; but if they see that you’re relaxed and perhaps enjoying the process, they’ll likely follow your lead. So just be yourself with the children: play, talk, and have fun with them as you do when nobody is watching. If you fake things, the Evaluator will probably pick up on that. Remember, you’re a good parent. Let the Evaluator see that!

If there have been claims that you are alienating the children, please be careful how you communicate with them about meeting with the Evaluator. At most, I would simply explain that he/she is helping the judge figure out when and how much time they will spend with you and the other parent. If it’s a real problem in knowing how to talk with them about it, please call me. And of course, do not encourage or direct the children to talk about any particular issue or portrayal of the other parent (or of you), as that will look as if you’re trying to influence and coach them.

The Evaluator will ask for contact information for some collateral sources, e.g., family members, friends, teachers, therapists. This is a critical part of the evaluation process because through these third parties the Evaluator will be able to see evidence of both parties’ strengths, weaknesses, and concerns. For instance, the Evaluator might hear about or pick up on certain behavioral patterns affecting the children, e.g., irresponsibility, instability, anger problems, control issues, alcohol/drug use, etc. Thus, it’s important to choose good collateral contacts. Choose those persons who can speak well of your character and parenting abilities, as well as those who can address the issues you’ve been experiencing with the other parent, including his/her negative behaviors.

When the evaluation is completed, the Evaluator will produce a written report detailing his/her findings and make certain recommendations. The attorneys, parties, and court will receive a copy of the report. Remember, it is confidential, and you should not show it to persons who are not authorized to have access to it. Hopefully, it will provide the basis for a settlement. If not, we will have a hearing, at which time either party can call the Evaluator as a witness to explain his/her process, conclusions and recommendations.

I am here to answer any specific questions you may have and to help you through the process. I wish you the very best evaluation possible!

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