What is a Custody Evaluation?
Custody evaluations are most often utilized in highly contested custody disputes. In the course of his or her investigation, a custody evaluator will interview both parents, observe the children with each of the parents, conduct age-appropriate interviews with the children and interview other significant people, such as teachers, daycare providers, healthcare providers, extended family members and friends. It is not unusual for the professional to administer some standard psychological tests. It is also helpful to the evaluator to visit the child's home or to visit the place where the child may live.
A custody evaluator is a mental health professional who makes a written recommendation to the Court as to what custody-visitation arrangement would be in the best interests of the children involved.
In the interest of objectivity, the professional selected to conduct the custody evaluation should not be a person who has previously treated any member of the family. It is also recommended that each party pay one-half the costs of the custody evaluation, which avoids the appearance that the professional may be biased toward the parent who paid the fee.
A well-drafted report will contain a summary of the information collected, an assessment of the family and the needs of the children. It will also recommend a custody/visitation arrangement. The custody evaluator's recommendation is just one factor that the Court will take into consideration when deciding what custody/visitation arrangement is in the children's long range best interests.
What Makes my evaluations unique.
I have spent my entire career learning about and providing services to families. I have specialized in trauma, attachment, child development and parenting issues for the last 15 years. I have been working with and providing healing to families who have experienced the effects of attachment challenges, children with the most severe behaviors, trauma of all sorts, parent/child conflicts, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect for more than 20 years. In most recent years, I have been working with children and parents struggling to move through the divorce process to a renewed family state. My background provides a rich platform from which to conduct thorough and insightful custody evaluations that take into account the many facets of a parents' emotional strengths, needs and capabilities, as well as understanding what children need to grow and thrive.
I received Custody Evaluation Training from the Pennsylvania Academy of Custody Evaluators (PACE) and am being supervised by Dr. Barry Brickland, a leader in the field of Child Custody Evaluation.
In addition, my custody evaluations are unique in the following ways:
- My specialization in attachment/bonding, trauma and the most severe behavior issues with children over the last 15 years, as well as working as a family based therapist to understand the dynamics in many different family systems, makes my background an asset for providing a comprehensive and insightful evaluation.
- My evaluations aim to uncover both strengths and weaknesses of each parent and make recommendations that specifically accommodate the children receiving the best of both their parents. Each parent has strengths that their child can benefit from. Thus, custody, visitation and other recommendations are made so the children can experience the benefit of both parents’ strengths.
- The assessment tools I use look at the emotional health and capabilities of each parent, as well as aim to determine how the child views and experiences each parent.
- I am skilled at assessing and discerning (as well as treating) the underlying issues regarding parent/child relational issues, including disconnection due to relational trauma and/or neglect, parent alienation, deficits in bonding and attachment and issues of parental skill.
What is the process for receiving a Custody Evaluation?
A person seeks a custody evaluation after a Judge orders one, or parents agree to have one done after children’s custody, visitation or other matters could not be resolved by mutual agreement. A Judge may suggest a particular custody evaluator, parents may seek out and agree upon a particular custody evaluator or, in some cases, parents can each seek out their own independent custody evaluations. In the last case, children and parents must participate in two evaluations, which can add stress to both the children and parents.
The first steps in obtaining a Custody Evaluation by me is for the parent or their attorney to contact my office to make the request. We will need to make sure there is enough time to complete the evaluation before the trial or court date has been scheduled. I will request that the Court be made to order the following:
1. I, Pam Moran, is named as the the neutral, bilateral evaluator, specifying that I am the Court’s expert.
2. Who is to participate in the evaluation and that everyone must cooperate.
Other issues covered in the Court Order may include: what portion each party is to pay (although generally it is equally split), what specific information the Court seeks to understand, what type of recommendations are being asked of the evaluator to make and what specific critical people, locations and documents are required.
I can begin the Evaluation Process only after the following have taken place:
1. Informed Consent/Notification for Custody Evaluations has been signed by both parties
2. The Custody Evaluation has been paid for in full by both parties. Costs are typically split equally.
How do I prepare for the Custody Evaluation?
- Keep all your appointments unless absolutely necessary to reschedule them.
- Arrive on time, if not early.
- Be prepared with a list of questions and concerns that you have or that have been requested of you to bring or complete.
- Bring any information or documents that you think would be helpful to the evaluator including educational, mental health or other medical documents.
- Ask others to write reference letters to comment on your ability to deal with difficult situations, your interactions and relationship with your children or to attest to any concerns that you may have.
- Bring a well thought out best case scenario Parenting Plan Proposal, as well as two other back up proposals.
- Be honest. Evaluators are skilled at picking up on behavior associated with dishonesty and will check your statements with other sources. Being dishonest can reflect poorly on you.
- Be Yourself. Be sincere. Evaluators can detect exaggeration, embellishment and insincerity. Keep in mind it is okay to show emotion. It is understandable to be nervous.
- Focus on your children and what you believe to be in their best interest.
- If you do not understand what is being ask of you, feel free to ask for clarification.
Preparing children depends on how aware they are of the conflict. In general, simply explain that they are going to meet with an evaluator who is trying to understand as much as possible about your family so that the evaluator can help you, the parents, to parent and care for them the very best they can. It is advisable to avoid encouraging or directing a child in any particular manner. These efforts are usually transparent.