Custody is often the most hotly contested issue in any divorce. Parents just want what is best for their children, and in some cases, they cannot come to an agreement on what that is. There are several ways that a parent may prove their case to a judge on what he or she believes is best for the child. In some cases, however, it may be useful to have a more neutral party to examine the case. In these situations, a custody evaluation could be helpful.
Minnesota statute provides that “In contested custody proceedings … the court may order an investigation and report concerning custodial arrangements for the child.” This is a custody evaluation, and it is provided using an evaluator from court services or from a private evaluation service. The custody evaluator is paid by the parties directly. The cost for a custody evaluation can range from $1,500 to $15,000 or more. A custody evaluator will conduct an independent investigation in order to make a determination about what he or she believes is best for the child. This independent evaluation will include several important actions. An evaluator will need to independently interview each parent at least once, but usually several times. These interviews will total several hours at least. Similarly, the children will be independently interviewed, depending on their ages, again with the interviews likely totaling at least several hours. If the children are too young to be interviewed, the evaluator may observe the child interact with each parent at each parent’s home. The evaluator needs to talk to the children’s teachers, child care providers, medical provides, therapists and others. The evaluator will also likely review the children’s school records and performance reviews. The evaluator also needs to review each parent’s mental health records, including any records that indicate a history of drug or alcohol abuse. It is also possible for the evaluator to request the parents each submit to a psychological examination or a chemical dependency evaluation.
After examining these factors and anything else the evaluator determines is relevant, Minnesota statute §518.17 provides that the evaluator needs to issue a report to the court detailing the findings in reference to the best interest factors listed in the Minnesota statute. A court will not always follow the recommendations of a custody evaluator, but it very often will. In short, the evaluation carries heavy significance.
If you have a complicated custody case, let us help you. Call us today and we can talk to you about your children and what we can do to help you.