Child Custody Evaluations in Utah
Going through a child custody evaluation is stressful for any parent. Many aspects of your child’s future — including living arrangements, level of access for each parent and responsibility for making major decisions — can depend on the evaluation process.
Preparation and knowledge are the best antidotes to stress. Complete the form on this page to take advantage of a free 30 minute consultation. Work with a reputable, knowledgeable child custody evaluation attorney to ensure that you understand the basics of the evaluation process in Utah.
For the best law firm in cases of child custody Utah has to offer, contact Wall & Wall, Attorneys at Law, Salt Lake City UT, or use our online contact form to schedule a free case review.
What is a Child Custody Evaluation?
Utah courts use custody evaluations to make decisions about children’s best interests during custody disputes. Such evaluations sometimes are necessary in divorces but may occur in other situations, such as with parents who have never been married and may not have lived together. Custody disputes also can arise after years of co-parenting, for instance, if one parent needs to move for employment reasons.
Child custody evaluations provide Utah courts with the information needed to make decisions about where and with whom a child will live, who will make decisions in the child’s life, whether custody will be sole or joint, what the level of access for each parent will be, and other details.
The evaluations are conducted by court-appointed evaluators — psychologists, social workers, physicians or licensed counselors — who gather information through interviews, home visits, psychological testing and other means. As court-appointed evaluators, these professionals are not working for either side but are the court’s experts tasked with the responsibility of advising the court on what is in the best interests of the child.
Utah courts stipulate that child custody evaluators must consider the following factors in their recommendations:
- The preferences of the child.
- Emotional stability and moral character of parents or guardians.
- A need to keep siblings together.
- The child’s bond with either of the parents.
- Ability to provide for the child’s care.
- Religious compatibility.
- Desire for custody by both parents.
- Reasons a parent might not function as a caretaker, including drug abuse.
- Financial status.
- Any evidence of abuse.
- Additional factors the evaluator, the courts or the involved parties believe are important.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody Evaluations
The child custody evaluation is conducted by mental health professionals, to help the court determine actions that are in a child’s best interest. A confidential report of the findings of the evaluation will provide official recommendation to the judge. This kind of evaluation may be ordered by a court if an investigation of circumstances in the family could help clarify what would be the best child custody decision. Some concerns that can lead to a child custody evaluation include:
- Substance abuse
- Mental illness
- Domestic violence
- Special needs of a child
- Suspected insufficient parenting
- One parent moving a long distance
The child custody evaluation is a very common process, but it is understandably stressful for parents. To be prepared for the process, here is a list of guidelines for the custody evaluation process that the evaluator will probably include. These methods are to help the evaluator make a determination that can provide professional insights to the judge in your case:
- Observation of each parent interacting with the child.
- Multiple separate interviews with each parent
- Multiple interviews with the child who is the subject of the custody case.
- Possibly interviews with health care providers, the child’s teachers, and/or others.
- Possible psychological testing of one or more members of the family.
- A review of prior legal circumstances regarding the custody case and the divorce.
The evaluator will produce a report for the court based on the information gathered in the evaluation, along with their conclusions and recommendations for the judge on awarding custody in the case.
The outcome of a child custody evaluation can have serious consequences for the outcome of the custody case and for the future of your child and you and your entire family. There are important things you can do to help ensure that the evaluation process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Follow instructions from your child custody lawyer. — Do not disregard those as just optional suggestions in preparing for the evaluation or during it.
- Be entirely truthful. — Mental health professionals are trained to recognize types of behaviors and their indicators, including deceptive behaviors.
- Willingly cooperate fully with the evaluator. — Answer all questions, and complete whatever you are asked to do for the next meeting. Provide contacts, and sign a release allowing the evaluator to interview them.
- Prioritize making an appropriate impression. — Make sure your house is clean, organized, and free of clutter, in case the evaluator asks to meet at your home.
- Keep a positive demeanor. — Do not vilify your child’s other parent. Speak objectively about his/her positive and negative aspects. Never make accusations unless you have clear evidence.
- Prepare well for each meeting. — Do not cancel, and be on time. Write down any questions you may have and bring those with you. Have your children’s school and medical records ready.
- Don’t complain about your marriage. — Expressing bitterness about your failing marriage can make you seem unwilling to cooperate with your ex for your child’s interest if you win custody.
- Remember, it’s about your child’s best interest. — Be prepared to discuss what you think is in your child’s best interest. Do not focus on your interests. Practice with someone, if that can help.
- Do not expect that you and the evaluator will be friends. — It’s not the role of the evaluator to socialize with you. His/her job is exclusively to assess what would be best for your child(ren).
- Be your true self. — Let the evaluator see what kind of parent you actually are. Just engage with your child with a loving attitude while your child does activities he/she enjoys. This will demonstrate your child’s experience while in your care.
Here are a few of the most important Do’s and Don’ts for a parent’s conduct during a Child Custody Evaluation:
|Cooperate willingly and completely.||Do not question the evaluator’s methods or qualifications.|
|Be yourself at your best, and dress the same way you would for a court appearance.||Do not become too casual in your demeanor or attire as the process continues over several meetings.|
|Write a list of questions and points you want to discuss with the evaluator and take it with you to the meeting.||Though you’ve thought about what you want to say, do not tell your child what to say or not to say to the evaluator.|
|Be sincere on any psychological test you are given.||Do not try to fool the psychological test with your answers. The tests detect that.|
|Admit that you have made your own mistakes.||Don’t blame your child’s other parent for everything going wrong.|
|Call the children “our children.”||Do not call the children “my children.”|
|If you are asked to complete a questionnaire, show your answers to your attorney before giving it back to the evaluator.||If you think you made a serious error in talking with the evaluator, tell your child custody attorney about it immediately.|
|Speak in a polite manner using appropriate language.||Do not use psychology terminology when speaking with the evaluator.|
|Devote your attention to your child throughout the evaluation meeting.||Do not become distracted by your ex or the evaluator during the meeting. Maintain focus on your child and his/her interests.|
|Speak objectively about your child’s other parent, when asked about any positive or negative characteristics.||Do not make any negative comment about your ex while your child is present, even if the evaluator seems to encourage you to do that.|
|Maintain your patience with everyone throughout the process.||Do not engage in any arguments with your ex or your child in any of the evaluation meetings.|
Follow all recommended Do’s and Don’ts that your child custody lawyer provides, as your top priority. Approve the above list of recommendations with your attorney before using these suggestions in your child custody evaluation process.
How an Attorney Can Help You Prepare for a Child Custody Evaluation
Although a child custody evaluation can be stressful, you don’t have to go through it alone. A good evaluation incorporates multiple sources and methods for gathering information, including:
- Developmental histories.
- Personal interviews.
- Parent-child observation.
- Medical records.
- Psychological testing of both parents and children.
- Psychological, school and legal records.
- Documentation of home life, including photos, videos and sound recordings.
- Interviews with neighbors, teachers, babysitters, step-parents and others.
Although an evaluator likely will not place too much weight on any individual piece of information, you will spend significant time preparing the information requested. A knowledgeable attorney can assist you with getting physically prepared for the evaluation by gathering important documents like school and medical records, activity calendars, testimonial letters and others.
Child Custody Evaluation Attorney Salt Lake City, Utah
During your child custody evaluation, it’s important to treat your evaluator with the utmost respect and approach the process like a job interview. Be friendly, smile and work to emphasize the positive. Your attorney will coach you not to view the psychologist as a confidante and to understand that any information provided is not private. Stick to the facts when commenting and allow the evaluator to reach her own conclusions.
When you work with Wall & Wall Attorneys at Law PC, you have understanding, knowledgeable and compassionate advocates on your side. We understand the complexities of divorce, including the complicated emotional issues involved. We help arm you with the knowledge and information you need to make important decisions in your life, and we work with you on an individual basis to ensure that you learn about your legal rights in any given situation. For a free consultation to discuss your case, call (801) 803-6988 or visit our website to fill out our contact form. We’re here to help you every step of the way.