Custody evaluations are conducted by clinical psychologists or psychiatrists upon the motion of one of the parties to a custody dispute, or on the courts own motion. After completing an evaluation, the evaluator files a report with the court describing their findings and recommendations for custody arrangements. The evaluator may also testify at hearing as an expert witness. This blog examines Indiana child custody evaluations and what to expect if one has been ordered in your custody case.
The Indiana statute governing investigation and report concerning custodial arrangements for child provides that the report may be completed by the court social service agency, staff of the juvenile court, a guardian ad litem or court appointed special advocate, the probation department, or a private agency employed by the court (I.C. 31-17-2-12). A custody evaluator, however, is usually a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. The evaluator conducts interviews, home visits, and psychological testing in order to assist the court in determining a custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. The evaluator may be selected by the court, or agreed upon by the parties, depending on the circumstances leading to the request for an evaluation, or court order, absent a request (DivorceNet). Either way, the first thing that a party can expect in a child custody evaluation is additional fees, sometimes upwards of $10,000. In Woody, a psychiatrist at Meridian Psychological Services quoted mother an estimated fee of more than $11,000 to complete an evaluation (Woody v. Dillard, 176 N.E.3d 601 (Ind. App. 2021). While the court can order a party who requested the evaluation to pay the entire fee, divide the fee between the parties equally or based on their percentage of the income earned between them both, or divide the fee however it sees fit, you should expect to pay some part of the evaluators fee, particularly if you are the party who asked for an evaluation.
You can expect to meet with the evaluator two to three times during the custody evaluation. During these interviews, you should be honest, and focus on the best interests of your child, not the other parent’s flaws. If you have specific concerns with the other parent’s ability to care for the child, raise those issues in a non-judgmental way, at the appropriate time. You may also be asked to complete questionnaires or psychological testing that may provide information about your parenting style and emotional functioning (Anatomy of a Child Custody Evaluation, 1999). Once the report of the evaluator has been filed with the court and provided to your attorney, you may need to meet with them to discuss the report and any negative findings that you will need to address at the custody hearing.
As part of the evaluation and investigation, a custody evaluator will generally interview both parents, the child’s teachers and coaches, pediatricians, close family members, and anyone else who plays an important role in the child’s life. They may also conduct home visits where they can observe the child’s interactions with parents and siblings, collect the parents’ employment and medical records, and run background checks on the parents. Evaluators will oftentimes request consent to obtain and review parent and child medical and mental health records, and ask parents to submit to drug testing, mental health screenings, and personality and IQ testing, as well as review the child’s educational records (American Psychological Association). During this investigation phase of the evaluation, you can expect to sign consents, participate in screenings and testing, and speak with the evaluator both in their office and in your home.
Once all relevant information has been collected the custody evaluator will prepare a report for the court containing their findings, any concerns of either parent, and recommendations for custody, parenting time schedules, and services or requirements that should be included in a custody order such as therapy, parenting classes, or supervised parenting time. This report is an in-depth analyses of the family dynamics, issues concerning custody and parenting time, each parent’s physical and mental health, and any matter that may affect the child’s best interests. The American Psychological Association has developed guidelines for child custody evaluations in family law proceedings, which provides custody evaluators with information on the purpose of a custody evaluation and how they can best fulfill that purpose (American Psychology Association). Your attorney will receive a copy of the evaluators report in order to help prepare for the custody hearing where the evaluator will testify concerning their findings.
While the court is not required to follow the recommendations of a child custody evaluator, most will give the evaluators report a great deal of weight when making a custody and parenting time determination. If you are involved in a custody dispute where a custody evaluation has been ordered, the experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can help you protect your rights and your child’s. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.