[I]n 90% of divorces involving children, the parents manage to reach an agreement regarding child custody. However, if you and your Ex aren’t able to accomplish that, the court will step in and determine the appropriateness of each parent’s role in their child’s upbringing.
The two of you will then meet for a child custody evaluation. In Texas, this is called a social study and is usually mandatory if you are involving the courts and maybe something to consider if you are not.
Considerations in Your Child Custody Evaluation
1. Listen to your lawyer. He or she will explain the process to you, and give you specific instructions. Your lawyer is working in YOUR best interest, so make sure you follow her lead.
2. Be aware of the evaluator’s role. The evaluator is usually independent. That person is not your friend or confidant. Never assume the evaluator is, ‘on your side.’ The evaluator is acting in the child’s best interest and in some states will report directly to the judge handling your case.
3. Be honest. Never lie to the evaluator. The counselor is trained to pick up the behaviors associated with lying. If you are suspected of not being truthful, you will not like the outcome. My Ex learned this the hard way and the social worker recommended my house over hers because of it.
4. Be prepared for your meetings. Keep your appointments. Arrive on time, or even early. Bring questions, and write down any others that might arise during the discussion. Bring extra paper to take notes and perform rough drafts.
5. Make a good impression. Dress appropriately, and have your child’s school and health records at the ready. Print neatly on all the forms you are given. On the essay portions of the questions consider writing a rough draft before filling it out on the form.
6. Keep a positive attitude. Avoid ‘bad mouthing’ your Ex. However, you should objectively assess strengths and weaknesses. Avoid making any allegations that cannot be supported with specific evidence.
7. Stick to parenting issues. Don’t mix poor spousal skills with inept parenting. The two can be mutually exclusive. You can sabotage your chances of gaining custody by appearing to be reluctant to support interaction with the other parent.
8. Cooperate and answer all questions. Make sure you follow-through on any requests, including contact information with anyone close to your family who might be called on to provide valuable information.
9. Focus on your child’s best interest. Genuinely discuss what’s in the best interests of your children. You may want to prepare by practicing with a friend who can act as a ‘devil’s advocate,’ to keep the focus on the child’s best interest, not yours. Some evaluators may want to talk with your children. Pre-talk with your kids to share honestly and give them the freedom to say anything they want. Don’t tell them what to say.
10. Be yourself. Interact warmly with your children; have games and books for them during the custody evaluation home visit. Seeing the children thrive in a setting that doesn’t revolve around TV or video games will make a positive impression on the evaluator. During my Ex’s social study, my daughter did not interact well with my Ex. Furthermore, she did not feel comfortable talking with the evaluator. When the evaluator visited my house, she interacted and talked very comfortably will all involved.
Make a Good First Impression in Your Child Custody Evaluation
As with almost all dealings with legal/professionals involved with your child custody case, impressions carry a lot of weight. Your personality, how you interact with your children, maintaining a positive attitude can all help or hurt your case.
At times that will be tough, but it will ultimately work in your favor, and you’ll feel better about yourself.
What other advice would you share about a custody evaluator? Share your experience.
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