May 25, 2018
Are Custody Evaluations Worth It?
Q: What on earth is a custody evaluation?
A: The legal definition of a custody evaluation is a study and analysis of the needs and development of a child who is the subject of a custody and visitation action and of the abilities of the parties to care for the child and meet the child’s needs. (See Md. Rule 9-205.3) But what does that really mean? A custody evaluation is an assessment of both parents, performed by a social worker or psychologist, in order to present findings and recommendations to the court about what custody and visitation schedule the social worker or psychologist believes would be in the best interest of the child.
Not every custody or divorce proceeding requires a custody evaluation and in some jurisdictions in Maryland, they are hard to get. A Judge can order that a custody evaluation be completed at the request of a parent if the Judge believes that there are substantial concerns or issues that would require an expert’s testimony (the custody evaluator) for the Judge to understand the evidence presented or to determine a fact that is at issue. Custody evaluations are typically ordered when the Judge does not believe that witness testimony will be enough to provide the court with the context and relevance of evidence of both parties’ parenting skills and/or short-falls. A custody evaluator’s education, training and experience, as well as their intimate investigation of the parties and their child(ren), can provide the court with expertise, when necessary. For example, a custody evaluation may be helpful if one parent appears to be alienating the other parent from the child or if there are allegations of physical abuse or substance abuse.
A custody evaluation typically begins with an intake interview with a social worker and each parent, individually. Then, each parent is ordered to provide the custody evaluator with as much documentation as possible regarding the child so that the custody evaluator can evaluate how the child is doing (i.e. the child’s school records, medical records, mental health records, etc.). The custody evaluator will then meet with each parent individually to discuss each parent’s concerns, with each parent and the child(ren) at that parent’s home and possibly speak with third parties that each parent recommends who may have additional, helpful information about the wellbeing of the child(ren). Then, the custody evaluator will prepare a report for the court that states their findings, analysis and recommendations for a custody and visitation schedule that they believe is in the best interest of the child.
In all custody cases, the court is required to determine what custody and visitation schedule would be in the best interest of the child. Since custody evaluations provide the court with information obtained from an in-depth investigation and analysis by a qualified, neutral professional, the court may rely upon the custody evaluation, in addition to other factors, in making its decision. The weight given to any custody evaluation is in the sole discretion of the Judge. However, parents should carefully consider whether to request a custody evaluation because it may cause the child additional stress and even the best custody evaluators could have a bias toward one parent or the other – they are professionals, but just like Judges, they are only human.
I am always trying to inspire my clients to reach their divorce and/or custody goals by providing insightful and empowering legal advice. I thrive on helping clients understand how to successfully navigate the changes in their family dynamics to preserve family relationships and achieve the best outcome possible for the benefit of their children. When I’m not helping clients, I am running around with my husband and our two young and extremely active children and our Pug, Wali.
DISCLAIMER: The materials available on this blog are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular issue or problem.
About Wright, Constable & Skeen
WCS is ranked as a Tier 1 law firm by U.S. News & World Report in Baltimore in numerous practice areas. It is a full-service law firm representing businesses and individuals in national and local matters including: Commercial Litigation, Construction, Estates & Trusts, Family Law, Fidelity and Surety, Government Contracting, Health Care, Labor & Employment, Immigration, Insurance Defense, Intellectual Property, Bankruptcy & Creditors’ Rights, Maritime & Transportation, Real Estate, Mediation and Arbitration.