When to Use (and How to Fight) Custody Evaluations

You’ve found yourself in the middle of a contentious custody battle,what do you do now? Depending on your situation, you have a couple options: First, you can rely on persuading the judge that you are the parent better-suited for custody and the majority of the parenting time. The judge then will make a decision based on hearing your case in a trial that will last 1-6 hours. Your other option is to get a custody evaluation. This allows a neutral third party to delve deep into your family dynamics, see your children in action with both parties, conduct home visits, talk to teachers and family members, review the children's school and medical records, and make an informed recommendation to the judge about who should have custody and parenting time.

Custody evaluators come in all shapes and sizes. One option is to request an evaluation through the court's Conciliation Services. Some counties (like Multnomah County in Oregon) have local rules which limit who can use this service “criteria includes the age of the children, how long since the last modification, if there is a juvenile case pending, and other factors. Conciliation services also tends to use a screening process to determine into which cases the program wants to invest time. Evaluations through conciliation services typically cost $1,000-$1,500 and can take 3-9 months. The evaluations are usually performed by social workers or other masters-level professionals and they typically do not perform psychological testing.

Private custody evaluations are another option. The evaluators are privately hired neutrals who are paid either by one party or split between the parties if the parties so agree. Even though one party pays, the evaluator must be neutral. The private evaluators range in education levels typically from masters-level up to licensed clinical psychologists. You can choose an evaluator who will do home visits, psychological and drug testing, and other options. Price tends to range from $3,000 to $10,000 and time can take 2-6 months, generally.

Lastly, if you get an evaluation which does not go well for you “what do you do? If you ultimately decide to fight the evaluation at a trial you need to be very well-prepared. You need to be prepared for the fight and you need to be prepared to pay the other side's attorney fees if you lose. The best way to fight a custody evaluation is to hire an expert. The expert should be more qualified in the field than the person doing the evaluation. For instance if the evaluator has a masters degree, your expert should be a licensed clinical psychologist so they automatically have more clout as an expert. The expert should look at the evaluation and attack the methodology, the conclusions, the observations, the style of writing (to uncover inherent bias), and a myriad of other things. The goal is to make the evaluation seem so unreliable that the judge dismisses it entirely and makes the decision themselves. Then you must put on your best case for your client to show that they are the better parent and can best serve the children's interests. However, you cannot get to that point if you do not completely destroy the custody evaluation.

Choosing the right expert can make all the difference in your case, especially when it comes to custody evaluation attacks. Choose wisely based on experience and reputation, not just your pocketbook.