If you and your ex are unable to reach an out-of-court agreement regarding child custody, the judge will likely order a child custody evaluation before ruling in your case. The evaluation will be prepared by an evaluator of the court's choosing or a guardian ad litem. In some cases, the court may allow you to choose an evaluator from a list of area professionals. Upon completion, the evaluator's findings will be provided to the court for the judge to consider.
And while the evaluator's recommendations aren't legally binding in any way, they do carry a lot of weight and could persuade the judge for or against the custody agreement you're hoping to achieve. Therefore, it is important to take every meeting with the child custody evaluator seriously and adhere to the following Dos and Don'ts:
Dos for Meeting With a Child Custody Evaluator:
- Be open to the process. The goal is to reach a custody agreement that is truly in your children's best interests -- and, ultimately, that's something that you and your ex both want.
- Speak with your children about what to expect. Your children may very well be frightened about meeting with the evaluator or worry that they'll say the wrong thing. Let them know that the evaluator is helping you and your ex learn how to work together more effectively and that there's no "right" or "wrong" answer to the questions the evaluator will ask.
- Cooperate with the evaluator. The experience of meeting with a neutral third party who will strongly influence the outcome of your case will probably feel unsettling. But try to be open and cooperative during the process instead of being fearful or defensive.
- Answer the evaluator's questions honestly. Instead of worrying about putting on a good show, just be yourself. When a question is asked, respond with an answer that addresses that specific question directly -- as opposed to going off on a tangent or talking about what you wish the evaluator had asked.
- Convey your willingness to work with your ex. Let the evaluator know that you're committed to cooperating with your ex and working together to do what's best for your children.
- Supply all requested documents. The evaluator may ask for documents proving that you are employed or that you have medical benefits. Do what you can to supply these forms quickly.
- View the experience as a learning opportunity. You just might learn something that could help you work more effectively with your ex -- and that would make things easier for your and your kids!
Don'ts for Meeting With a Child Custody Evaluator:
- Do not coach your children. This always backfires. If the evaluator even suspects that you've told your children what to say or not say, he or she may suspect that you are hiding something or trying to work the system to your advantage.
- Do not try to manipulate the evaluator. The evaluator is a neutral third party. His or her role is not to take sides or provide therapy. Remember that this isn't the time to turn on the charm or to try and create an alliance against your ex.
- Do not lie. The evaluator is probably well-versed in identifying lying behaviors. Any attempt to stretch the truth or leave out "just enough" of the details to present yourself more favorably will be obvious to a seasoned professional.
- Do not arrive late or skip an appointment with the evaluator. Showing up a few minutes early, instead, demonstrates that you're a concerned, capable parent who is taking the custody evaluation process seriously. It also shows that you value the evaluator's time, which he or she will likely appreciate.
- Do not speak negatively about your ex. Avoid the temptation to divulge a negative diatribe aimed at discrediting your ex. The evaluator has heard it all before, and it only creates the impression that you aren't really willing to cooperate with your ex, after all.
- Do not avoid questions or try to change the subject. When you don't like a question that the evaluator is asking, press on and answer it as honestly as you can anyway.
- Do not act in contempt of court orders. Finally, be extra careful throughout the evaluation process to make sure that you're not violating court orders regarding visitation or parenting time.
For additional tips, read 10 Ways to Prepare for a Child Custody Evaluation.