A custody evaluation is an investigation that takes place when parents are involved in a custody battle in an effort to determine what arrangements are in the best interest of the child. These evaluations can take place at the request of one or both of the parents or they can be ordered by the court. The process of the custody evaluation may involve the parents filling out a written survey and sitting down for in-depth interviews about their relationship with both each other and with their kids, undergoing psychological evaluations, and being observed while conducting a play session with their child. All of this takes place under the supervision of a trained evaluator, who may also use documentation provided by the parents and interviews with collateral contacts to make their recommendation to the court.
In a case where two parents separate and both desire to be extremely involved with the upbringing of their child, a custody evaluation is often performed. The evaluation may be agreed upon by both parents or requested by one, or the domestic court which has jurisdiction may step in and order one. When such an evaluation, also known as a parenting evaluation, is performed, it can mean that one or both of the parents' skill in raising the child is in question, that there may be substance abuse of child abuse involved, or that one of the parents simply wants to move to a different area and take the child with them.
The process of a custody evaluation usually begins with the parents filling out a lengthy questionnaire detailing not only their relationship with each other and their child, but also facts about their current life and their past. Interviews are conducted with each parent, and psychological testing is also normal for these evaluations, as the mental health of one or both of the parents may be in doubt. Evaluators also may monitor the parents during a play session with their child, observing from another room to help judge the parenting skills of the mother and father in a controlled environment.
Parents involved in the dispute may also try to help their case by providing any documentation that they possess to evaluators in an effort to either prove their qualifications or to highlight the lack of parenting ability of the other parent. In the same way, they may offer people they know to the evaluator as collateral contacts, who are available to be interviewed. These collateral contacts may either be used to enhance the character of one parent or provide negative evidence about the other.
Evaluators usually use psychologists or other trained professionals in the interviewing and testing process and then gather all of the information to make a decision. Their recommendations are highly valued by the domestic court and are followed in a large percentage of custody cases. The parties involved do have the right to challenge a custody evaluation and even depose the evaluator in court.