What Should I Expect in a Parenting Evaluation?

Question

My wife and I are in the process of getting a divorce.  We have two little kids, and very different ideas about how much time they should spend with each of us.  My wife says that the children should live mostly with her, while I believe that the children should have equal time with both of us.  We recently had a hearing about a temporary schedule for the kids, and the commissioner ordered that our family should undergo a parenting evaluation.  I’m nervous about this, and don’t know what to expect.  What does a parenting evaluation typically entail?

Answer

The parenting evaluation is a very important resource for the court in parenting disputes.  The parenting evaluation allows the court to hear from a neutral third party, who has training or expertise in child development and/or family law, regarding the most appropriate final parenting plan for the children.

What to Expect.  During the investigation, the parenting evaluator has the opportunity to obtain information about the parents and children from a wide variety of sources.

For example, most parenting evaluators will interview the children as well as the parents.  This is a very important element of a parenting evaluation because in the vast majority of family law cases a judge will not to speak to or question the children.  The parenting evaluation may be the only source of neutral information regarding the children’s feelings and wishes available to the judge.

The evaluator may also visit each parent’s home, and interview other people who may have relevant information about the children and parents. These people may include professionals like teachers, doctors or mental health counselors; or other people who know the children and parents such as other family members, friends, and neighbors.  Depending on the evaluator’s qualifications, he or she may also conduct psychological tests of both parents, which can be useful in cases where one or both parents have been accused of having a mental impairment that may affect parenting.

All of the information obtained by the evaluator will be condensed into a written report that contains recommendations for a final parenting plan.  Usually, the evaluator will make recommendations about not only the residential schedule but also about whether one, or both parents need to undergo certain services to help them with parenting.  These services can be anything from a parenting class to individual counseling or drug and alcohol treatment.  The evaluator may also recommend counseling or other services for the children, especially if they are having difficulty adjusting  totheir parents’ separation.

Understandably, the parenting evaluation can be a source of significant anxiety for divorcing parents.  Cooperating with the evaluator, and keeping your focus on your children will help you ensure that the evaluator gains a clear and informed understanding of the dynamics of your family.

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