What Is A Forensic Child Custody Evaluation?
A forensic child custody evaluation looks at each member of a family and their roles in the parent-child relationship. A mental health professional conducts an analysis of the individuals in a family and then generates an in-depth report on their findings. This report is used by the courts to evaluate parent-child relationships as they relate to child custody.
These evaluations are used in a number of situations, including:
- When allegations of abuse or neglect exist
- When parents cannot agree on custody
- When parents have substance abuse or mental health issues
Parents can request these evaluations. In some cases, a judge may order that a child custody evaluation take place. A neutral mental health professional is selected for the evaluation and generates the report that the judge will use to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child.
The Child Custody Forensic Evaluation Process
The child custody forensic evaluation process is quite complex with a number of components. An evaluation, as a result, can take some time, lasting 3 to 5 months in some cases. The following are the components of most child custody forensic evaluations:
Intial Meetings – The mental health professional will meet with everyone involved in the case in an initial meeting. In this meeting, the MHP will get to know the participants and the general background of the case.
Interview – The mental health professional will interview anyone related to the parent-child relationship, including parents and stepparents, the children themselves, parent partners, and parent fiances. Typically, these are in-person interviews.
Joint Child-Parent Meetings – Both parents will have their own joint child-parent meeting. This meeting provides the MHP with the opportunity to evaluate the parent-child dynamic.
Child Interviews – The MHP will also meet with the child or children in a family to further evaluate the family dynamic and experience of the child or children.
Home Visits – A custody evaluation may require one or more home visits. The goal of these visits is for the evaluator to observe the family dynamic in a different setting and also assess whether or not a home is appropriate for a child.
Psychological Tests – Most evaluations will also include psychological testing. These tests will determine the general mental health of each parent.
How to Prepare for a Child Custody Evaluation
To prepare for a child custody evaluation, gather the following:
- Lists of individuals familiar with you and your parenting style, including contact information. The MHP may use this information to conduct third-party interviews.
- Report cards, medical records, and previous assessments of your child or children
- Notes or journal entries
- Completed scales or surveys and paperwork. Your MHP may ask that you complete some questionnaires or paperwork in advance of your first meeting. Make sure these are completed and bring them with you.
Being prepared for an evaluation is essential. All of this information will help your MHP accurately assess the case.
How to Get Started
In addition to the above, you will need to pay for your evaluation to get started. Chances are the court will determine a fee based off your income and the other parent’s income. Keep in mind that non-payment of an evaluator will be viewed as non-compliance by the court. Overall, stay centered and remain honest with your evaluator. Remember that the goal of the evaluation is to make decisions that are in the best interest of your child or children.