Child Custody Evaluations in Pennsylvania

Determining child custody arrangements is one of the most challenging aspects of a divorce. It takes a lot for parents to lead separate family lives and still maintain a good relationship with their kids. Sometimes, when parents can’t mutually agree on a custody arrangement, a judge might order a child custody evaluation.

What is a Child Custody Evaluation?

Child custody evaluations are assessments of a family conducted by mental health evaluators, typically psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. These evaluations help to clarify issues in complicated divorce cases. In other words, they provide a court with an arrangement that would serve the child’s best interest.

Judges can order child custody evaluations based on their initiative or upon request from a parent or guardian. In most cases, they give an evaluation order when dealing with the following scenarios:

  • A history of substance abuse, violence, or crime
  • A child with special needs
  • When there are plans to relocate the child outside the state
  • When parents have widely different reports of events occurring in the family

If parents agree to undergo evaluations, a judge may assign them a staff evaluator. In many counties in Pennsylvania, however, parents are expected to choose a private evaluator themselves. You can discuss with custody lawyers in West Chester PA, to know what rule is applicable in your county.

The Evaluation Process

The evaluation process differs with each unique child custody case. However, the general procedures that evaluators carry out include:

  • Conduct several interviews with parents, children, and extended family members. These interviews can sometimes involve teachers, therapists, doctors, and other relevant people in the family’s lives.
  • Conduct psychological evaluations of the family
  • Closely observe how each parent interacts with the child.
  • Review relevant documents and records such as school, medical, or criminal reports.
  • Administer questionnaires to each parent.

The evaluation must cover every aspect of the case to come out with the best analysis. However, a judge might ask an evaluator to focus extra attention on specific issues, like anger or drinking.

Child custody evaluations can be over in two months if it’s through a county court evaluator. However, working with private evaluators can take up to six months to conclude, especially in complicated cases.

For instance, if the evaluator suspects child neglect or abuse. They’ll need to report it to the relevant child protection agency for investigation, and this process usually takes time.

The Evaluation Report

When an evaluation ends, the evaluator usually produces a report which includes the following:

  • A summary of their findings
  • Any recommended therapy or treatments
  • A recommended custody plan for the judge to consider when making a decision, or
  • A mutually-agreed parenting plan from both parents during the evaluation.

The evaluator will have to submit the report to the court before the next court hearing. Additionally, parents are allowed to review the information with their custody lawyers in West Chester, PA.

Conclusion

Child custody evaluations might be necessary to clarify complicated custody cases. If you’re preparing for an evaluation, contact custody lawyers in West Chester, PA, to guide and advise you through the process. An attorney can also help to protect you and your child’s rights.