An unfortunate reality of divorce is the decision of where the children will live. When the parents cannot agree on this issue, the court can appoint a psychologist to conduct a formal evaluation of the child(ren) and the parents. The Court, not the psychologist, will make the final decision concerning custody.
What is a custody evaluation?
A custody evaluation is an objective, systematic approach to gathering as much information as necessary in order to make a recommendation as to which parent (or other relative) will provide the home environment most suited to the child’s needs. The evaluation always addresses the needs of the child, not those of the parents. Thus, for example, the fact that a parent is lonely without the child, is not relevant to the question of with whom the child will fare best.
The child needs are not the same as what the child wants. For example, even though a youngster wants to live with his mother, this may not be in his or her best interests.
What is involved in a custody evaluation?
In most cases the evaluation will consist of several interviews as well as psychological testing. Interviews are conducted with all adults involved with the child, including patents, step-parents and sometimes other relatives who have significant roles in the child’s life. Psychological testing provides an additional source of information that cannot be obtained through interviews alone.
Usually several interviews are necessary, especially those that involve the child. Because situational factors (moods, illness, etc.) can have temporary effects on behavior, multiple interviews help differentiate between temporary fluctuations and more enduring personality characteristics.
In special circumstances, a custody evaluation may involve visits to the home or school, but these are not typically necessary.
How long does a custody evaluation take and what does it cost?
Although the number of hours of actual client contact may be modest, the process of interviews and testing usually takes several weeks. School and work schedules need to be accommodated. In addition , it is advantageous for all adults and children to be seen over a longer period of time, so that minor fluctuations in moods and attention can be viewed in perspective.
The total cost is generally $3500 to $5000. This is based on an hourly rate for interviews, testing, data gathering and preparing the written report. If court testimony is required, this will be billed in addition.