The Child Custody Evaluation Process

A child custody evaluation is a common process in New Mexico family law cases. However, it can still be an anxiety-inducing time for a parent. To keep your fears in check and ensure you are properly prepared for this process, you should take a closer look at the custody evaluation process and how it can influence a custody proceeding.

What Is the Evaluation For?

Generally, this process is carried out by a mental health professional so they can make a recommendation about visitation and custody to the court. The professional will evaluate the relevant parties involved–which are usually you, your co-parent and your child, as well as others in your homes–so the recommendation is an informed one.

Why Are These Evaluations Done?

The most common reason for a child custody evaluation is when parents are unable to work together to settle the details of a custody agreement. It may also be done if one or both parents don’t believe the current custody agreement is meeting the child’s needs. Under both scenarios, the judge in the case will order the evaluation to provide the court with the parenting arrangement recommendations that are in the best interest of the children in your case. Parents can also request an evaluation, but they should speak to a family law attorney before doing so.

Preparing for Your Evaluation

Even the most exceptional parents can be nervous about a custody evaluation, and this can impact their actions as the process goes on. To stop this from happening, consider the tips below to reduce your stress.
• Treat this process like you would approach a job interview. Be on time, be honest, be confident and be sure to dress appropriately.
• Cooperate with your evaluator. Even though you may be against the process, you still need to participate so the evaluator doesn’t get a bad impression.
• Be prepared and organized. Your evaluator will likely ask for your case documents at one point, for example, so have them ready.
• Keep your child’s best interests as your top priority at all times.
• Ask your attorney about getting a list of referral questions together. These are questions that can point the evaluator to specific concerns that should be addressed but may be overlooked otherwise.

The Details of the Child Custody Evaluation Process

Keep in mind that the person doing your evaluation is just trying to determine what really is going to be in your child’s best interests for the judge. To make this determination, they often follow a procedure similar to the one outlined below.
• They will carry out interviews with each co-parent separately, and this will take place more than once.
• They will carry out several interviews with your child.
• They will observe you and your co-parent interacting with your child in an office or home setting.
• They may perform interviews with other people involved in your family, such as health care providers, therapists, teachers and other family members.
• They will perform psychological testing on your family members.
• They will review the Court file for prior motions and pleadings in your case.
Once the process is finished, the evaluator will take all the information they gathered and create a report to give to the attorneys and the  judge who is hearing your case. The report will list all of their findings and make recommendations on how your child’s custody issue should be resolved. Generally, judges tend to follow the recommendations in these reports.
If you are going to be part of a custody evaluation, it is important to have an experienced family law attorney on your side. He or she can help prepare you for the process and ensure your concerns are addressed.