What is a Child Custody Evaluation?

A child custody evaluation is a process in which a judge orders a mental health professional to investigate specific issues in a case. The evaluator compiles a report on each parent’s strengths and weaknesses, and may also provide recommendations to the court if the judge requested them.

Reasons for Child Custody Evaluations

A judge can order an evaluation anytime more information on a family’s circumstances would help determine the best parenting arrangement. A parent might ask the judge to make this order. If the parents do not agree to the evaluation, the judge must first hold a hearing to decide whether it’s necessary.

Common reasons for evaluations include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • A child with special needs
  • Moving a child out of state
  • Questionable parenting

Selecting an Evaluator

Evaluators can be counselors, therapists, licensed social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists. Counties like Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant offer evaluations by professionals in their Domestic Relations Offices or family court services office, while other counties just maintain a list of approved evaluators.

The Evaluation Process

The evaluator must:

  • Interview everyone named in the suit, including any children over 4
  • Observe the children with each parent (sometimes at the parent’s home)
  • Review school records, medical records, criminal records, and other relevant documents

The evaluator gives mental exams to people in the case when necessary. If he or she is not qualified, they bring in another professional to give the exams. The evaluator might also interview other people with knowledge of the family, from babysitters to doctors.

Evaluator’s Report

Once the evaluator has finished assessing a family, they write a report on each parent’s strengths and weaknesses in raising children. The report might also provide recommendations as to how the court should rule. The evaluator shares the report with the lawyers (or the self-representing parents).

Time and Costs

Evaluations typically take three to nine months. In rural counties, they may only take six to eight weeks. On the other hand, complex cases in populous areas can take over a year as evaluators sometimes work with as many as 75 sources. Evaluators charge a flat rate, an hourly fee or a combination of the two. Parents usually split the costs evenly, though one can be ordered to pay the entire fee. Total costs range widely, from $500 per side up to $10,000 per side.  Having the evaluation done by a private evaluator is more expensive, but having the evaluation done by a domestic relations or family court services department is income based.

If you need representation for your child custody or divorce case, feel free to schedule a consultation with someone on our team to discuss.