We have our opinions about custody evaluations and custody evaluators and they’re generally not very positive. Still, many need help in preparing for what is to come with a custody evaluation. Many need assistance in discovering what to expect. Our bottom-line opinion is that the courts rely far too heavily on the “independent assessment” of custody evaluators. Frankly, they spend far too little time with all of the players embroiled in the high-conflict custody situation to truly make an informed decision. It’s far too much power for one person to have over such a significant decision that affects so many lives.
Regardless of their education or other credentials, their workload in conjunction with the limited time spent with the family members affords them no special powers with which they can make such critical recommendations.
Many well-respected experts in the mental health field, including psychological scientists, are highly critical of child custody evaluations & evaluators.
Robert Emery, Ph.D. along with other colleagues wrote:
In addition to their weak scientific basis, one-sided custody evaluations, where you or your ex hire an evaluator, may be dismissed by a judge as biased. (If one-sided evaluations aren’t dismissed, look out. It’s really hard not to be biased in favor of the side that is paying you. And besides, smart lawyers “shop” for an evaluator who they know in advance is likely to favor their side.) These are reasons why most experts agree that, if an evaluation is performed at all, the evaluator should be a neutral expert either appointed by the court or agreed upon by both sides.
Unfortunately, as human beings, we all have our inherent biases and prejudices. Custody evaluators are no different and we feel that finding one who is truly “neutral” is quite near impossible.
Further, when you stop to consider the financial incentives to the states, to the family court system in general, and to the evaluators themselves – it’s hard to imagine that even a court-appointed evaluator doesn’t feel some pressure to make recommendations that favor the system that pays them. That is to say, a recommendation that results in the highest possible child support award is in everyone’s financial best interests, except the party who has been ruled against.
Whenever possible, even in a high-conflict situation – if there is a way to avoid having someone else make such dramatic and life-altering decisions, do it! Reaching settlements in a high-conflict situation is asking a lot, but making a reasonable effort should be considered. Mediation or collaborative divorce efforts are becoming more and more popular. However, go into knowing that if your ex-partner is determined to be vindictive and use the children as weapons to hurt you, the target parent, the dreaded custody evaluation may not be avoided. In that case, we need to do the best we can to educate you about what to expect and prepare yourself accordingly.