What is a Custody Evaluation? [Part Two]

In my last blog I talked about how a custody evaluation is ordered, what it costs, and how long it takes. If you have not read that blog, it may be helpful to go back and take a look before you continue. If you prefer to get right into the trenches, then continue on.

Read the Blog: What is a Custody Evaluation (Part 1)

The first question everyone asks me when the court orders a custody evaluation is…”What is a custody evaluation?”

According to the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), a custody evaluation is:

  • An assessment of the needs of your children and each parent’s ability to meet those needs.
  • Directed toward helping your family make a positive adjustment to divorce.
  • Attentive to past events, present resources and future needs of the family.
  • Concerned with the strengths and weaknesses of both parents.
  • Focused on the “best interests” of children.

In layman’s terms, a custody evaluation is an in-depth and extensive investigation of your family and personal history focusing on psychological and clinical evaluation of the parents and the children in order to determine a custody and/or visitation recommendations that are in the best interest of the children.

A custody evaluation will involve multiple and extensive interviews of the parties and the children, both individually and together. In addition, the evaluator will make collateral contacts to third parties you provide and to outside professionals [Child Welfare Service (CWS) caseworkers, police, therapists, teachers, etc.]

The evaluator will also request certain documents for review. This includes any pleadings or documents that were filed with the court. In addition, the evaluator will generally request any CWS reports, police reports, mediation reports. The parties are usually allowed to provide additional documents such as calendars or journals. These items must be provided to the other party and/or their attorney simultaneously with delivery to the evaluator.

The evaluator will perform psychological testing of the parties (and sometimes the children). This may include:

  • The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale—Third Edition (WAIS-III) This is a comprehensive measure of intelligence composed of verbal and nonverbal tasks;
  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV (WISC-IV) This is used to test children’s cognitive ability;
  • The Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT-IV) This test is a measure of academic achievement and includes Reading, Comprehension, Spelling, and Mathematics subtests;
  • The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-II) This widely used test is an objective inventory of adult personality designed to provide information on critical clinical variables (i.e., depression, social introversion, hypochondriasis, schizophrenia, etc.)
  • The Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) is an objective inventory of adult personality, (i.e., depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, antisocial tendencies, and alcohol and/or drug problems);
  • The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective measure of emotional functioning and personality characteristics.

The list, while not exhaustive, includes some of the tests that are performed in connection with a custody evaluation. The evaluator will use the results from your test to interpret the information and data obtained during your interviews.

After distilling all of the information obtained during the interviews, testing and document review, the evaluator will draft and issue a comprehensive report of their findings, reasons for the findings, and recommendations of what is in the best interest of the children.

There are many factors at play in a custody evaluation, especially when the emotions of a highly contested custody case run high, so it is important to be prepared for the evaluation process. A qualified family law attorney can assist, but it is often recommended that a parent visit a consultant prior to beginning the process. The consultant to can assist the parent in understanding the process fully, and can coach them on how to present themselves in order to get the most accurate results.

Custody evaluations can play an important role in your child custody case and the results of the evaluation can have long lasting effects on the relationship between you and your children. That is why it is important to consult with a qualified child custody litigator prior to starting the process.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California’s child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Nancy J. Bickford, a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Please call 858-793-8884 to understand how she can help your child custody battle begin and end with keeping your kids where they belong: With you.


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