Today, fewer and fewer Minnesota counties have the funds available to provide custody evaluation services. Therefore, parents who disagree about custody and parenting time arrangements for their children must retain and utilize the services of a private custody evaluator.
Full Scope Evaluation
Sometimes, the custody evaluation can be a “full scope” evaluation that addresses custody labels, parenting time schedules and utilizes the best interest of the child factors that are laid out in the Minnesota Statutes. Sometimes, the evaluation will be more limited in scope and will focus on the following:
- The mental health of the child or a party
- Domestic violence issues
- Parenting issues
- Chemical dependency issues
During the evaluation, the evaluator will gather information and form opinions about what is best for the child regarding custody and parenting time. Sometimes custody evaluators are attorneys, but they are often social workers or psychologists. Usually, the custody evaluator will require an order from the court before they begin working. Private evaluators will also require an advance retainer. Retainers vary but an average range is $2,500-$10,000.
The individual evaluator will have an opinion about how much contact he or she will want to have with the attorneys on the case. Some evaluators prefer to gather information from the parties directly. Other evaluators will request a statement of the issues, concerns, or the legal pleadings from the attorneys.
The evaluator will meet with the parties, sometimes jointly, sometimes individually and will usually observe each parent with the child.
One of the questions people usually have is whether the evaluator will ask the child who they want to live with. Understandably, this is an anxiety-producing thought for a parent. If a child is of a sufficient age, a custody evaluator may interview the child. A custody evaluator should be skilled and knowledgeable in the area of interviewing children. Typically, an evaluator will use more indirect questions to get an impression of the child’s preferences.
The evaluator will gather information from various collateral sources as well. This can include personal references, doctors, medical data, mental health reports, teachers, and other professionals.
A custody evaluation typically takes 4-6 months to complete because the evaluator will gather a lot of information. When the evaluator has gathered enough information to render an opinion he or she will reduce their opinion to a written report. The report is formal and outlines the information relied upon in making the evaluator’s decision regarding the custody and parenting time for the children at issue.
If the case goes to trial, the evaluator will most likely be called as a witness and will testify and be cross-examined by the attorneys. Custody evaluations can be a useful tool for settlement and it is becoming increasingly common for evaluators to attempt to assist in settlement before a final written report is produced.