The Custody Evaluation Process
If there is an allegation that either parent is unfit or in hotly contested cases, the Florida family courts may enter an order appointing a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the children's interests. In addition to a GAL, either parent may request psychological evaluations of the parties and children even when parental fitness is not in issue.
The court-appointed GAL or forensic psychologist is not providing treatment for the parties and children; their duty is to uncover information regarding the children's best interests and report it to the court. As such, nothing either parent or the children tell the GAL or psychologist is confidential or subject to doctor-patient privilege.
Psychologists who perform child custody evaluations are subject to the ethical rules of their profession including rules from the American Psychological Association's Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings. As stated in the APA Guidelines, "psychologists render a valuable service when they provide competent and impartial opinions with direct relevance to the psychological best interests of the child."
The typical custody evaluation by a psychologist or GAL consists of:
- Two or three interviews with each parent
- Two or three interviews with each child
- Observation of parental interaction with each child in the office and potentially at home
- Psychological testing (performed only by mental health professionals) as necessary including administration of the Minnesota Multi-phasic Personality Index (MMPI-II)
- Review of court documents
- Interviews with people such as teachers, pediatricians and day care providers
Once the evaluation process is complete, the GAL or psychologist will issue a report with recommendations regarding a parenting plan. Most custody evaluators will specifically address concerns raised by each parent in making recommendations. The time-sharing recommendation is based on factors such as the quality of each parent's relationship to each child, the relationship between the parents and their ability or willingness to support their children's ongoing relationships with the other parent, the parenting skills and capacity of each parent, each parent's psychological health and any drug or alcohol abuse, the children's psychological health and any evidence of abuse or violence
Parents Preparing for the Custody Evaluation
Custody evaluators expect you to be nervous. They understand the stress that child custody litigation and evaluation process can cause. Following some basic guidelines will decrease your stress and help the evaluator get a true understanding of you and your parenting style.
Treat the evaluation like you would a job interview. Be on time and dress neatly. Don't become defensive. Be honest and sincere, but remember that what you say to the evaluator will not be kept confidential. Go in organized — get your documents together. Make a list of your concerns so you can be confident that they have been communicated. Show the priority the children have in your life. Communicate your knowledge of their interests, needs and desires and use that knowledge as a basis for your views on custody. Pay attention to the questions and answer them directly and to the point. Ask for an explanation if you don't understand the question.
Avoid negative comments about the other parent and his or her family unless the statements are directly related to parenting ability. Limit answers to questions about your spouse to specific facts. If you want to give the evaluator names of teachers or others you would like the evaluator to contact, give the evaluator a typed list with names, relationship to the child, address and telephone numbers. Respond promptly and calmly to evaluator requests, including requests for additional testing, documentation and/or payment.
Children and Child Custody Evaluations
When the children are scheduled to be interviewed by the court-appointed psychologist or GAL, give them a general explanation that they will be meeting with someone who will talk to them about what type of parenting schedule is best for them. Help your children understand what is going on, but do not coach them on the answers to give or you will be severely penalized in the recommendation. Explain to the children that the evaluator will consider their statements; but that they will never be asked to choose which parent they want to live with. Furthermore, their statements are considered but that the children do not have the ultimate decision on parenting schedules. Never, never discuss the results of the evaluator's report with the children or allow them to read the report unless instructed to do so by your Florida child custody lawyer.
The Child Custody Evaluator's Report
Most reports from the court-appointed psychologist or GAL retained to perform child custody evaluations contain the following:
- A summary of each parent's background, positions, viewpoints on their parenting abilities and that of the other parent;
- A summary of statements from collaborating witnesses or documents that the evaluator considered in rendering his or her report;
- A summary of the results of any psychological testing and the impact of the results on parenting ability of each parent;
- A summary of the information learned from observing and speaking with the children;
- A recommendation regarding a parenting plan;
- A parenting plan to help the parents carry out the recommended schedule and a process for resolving future problems;
- Suggestions for therapy or parenting classes as needed;
- Guidelines for dealing with special problems like abuse, violence or parental alienation; and
- Schedules or suggestions for reevaluation as needed.
Contact our Dade County Parenting Plan Attorney
Our South Florida child custody lawyers have counseled many clients who were ordered to attend child custody evaluations. Further, our Dade County custody lawyers are very experienced at reading and evaluating the child psychologists' reports.
Contact our Miami child custody attorneys at 305-329-2560, or e-mail us to schedule an appointment to discuss your Dade County, Broward County, or Monroe County child custody issue.
Our Miami child custody lawyers accept family law cases in Miami-Dade County, Broward County and Monroe County. Our Miami custody law office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm and weekends and evenings by appointment.
Consultations are available in person at our downtown Miami law office and at several meeting locations throughout Dade and Broward Counties including Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Galiano Street in Coral Gables, West Country Club Drive in Aventura, Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood and in the Homestead area. Appointments are also available by telephone and via Skype internet video chat.