The breaking up of a family can be hard on everyone involved. It can be even more difficult if where the child will live or what possession, access, and rights each parent should have are highly contested. One tool available to help with highly contested child custody issues is a child custody evaluation. If the custody of your child is highly contested it would be smart to have an attorney in your corner who is board-certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
If your spouse is struggling with addiction or for some other reason is lacking as a parent, it may be in your child’s best interest to request that the court grant an order for a child custody evaluation. This is not a tool to be used on a whim to get back at your spouse, but it can be a very useful report if there are valid concerns about the parenting of your spouse or ex. The child custody evaluation could be beneficial if you believe the other parent should have supervised visits, restricted access, or restricted rights regarding the child.
If the court grants the order and the parties can agree on an evaluator, then they can start the process of having the child custody evaluation done. If the parties cannot come to an agreement regarding who should conduct the child custody evaluation, the court will appoint an evaluator. According to the Texas Family Code § 107.103(c) an order for a child custody evaluation must include:
- the name of the person conducting the evaluation;
- the purpose;
- the basic elements required;
- a list of any additional elements required; and
- the specific issues or questions to be addressed.
Once the order for a child custody evaluation has been granted and the evaluator decided the child custody evaluation can begin. Each evaluator may have their own style and way of conducting the evaluation, but the basic elements will remain the same and are lined out in the Texas Family Code. The basic elements include things like interviews of the subject child if age-appropriate, interviews of the parties, interviews of anyone else who lives with the parties, observation of the child in the respective residences and with the respective parties, and a collection of information from relevant collateral sources. Additional elements can be added according to Texas Family Code § 107.109 (d). These elements can include the review of any other information that the court determines is relevant.
To start there will typically be an individual interview between you and the evaluator. During the interview, they will collect information from you regarding your parenting style, your relationship with the subject child, your relationship with your ex, and anything you think could be a reason that your ex’s rights should be restricted or reasons they are lacking as a parent. The evaluator will also collect some paperwork from you that contains information from or about relevant collateral sources. This could include things like school records, any criminal history or records, and the names and contact information for people who can speak to your ability as a parent. The evaluator will also want to conduct home visits at each residence and interview the child if they are at least four years of age. At the home visit, the evaluator will be looking for things such as what type of sleeping arrangements are made for the child, is the house clean and well stocked with food, and whether or not the house is baby proofed if that is applicable. Each of the steps will be completed with both parties.
A child custody evaluation is a valuable tool, but it is just that, a tool. The child custody evaluator does not have any power to make any legally binding orders regarding the child custody of the subject child. However, the child custody evaluation report can be viewed by the court and may help them make a determination regarding child custody issues. It is important to be prepared for a child custody evaluation and there are two critical things you can do to help. As you are making decisions, remember to keep the best interest of your child at the forefront of your mind. The second thing to do would be to hire an attorney who knows the law, knows how to adequately use a child custody evaluation. An expert attorney will be able to guide you through each part of the divorce process including a child custody evaluation.
As a parent, you still want what is best for your child, even in the midst of a divorce. In order to achieve what is best for your child, you may need a child custody evaluation.