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How can I prepare for a child custody evaluation?

When parents divorce in Illinois, their divorce settlement must outline a plan for many different issues regarding their children, including child support, custody and visitation. Some parents are able to utilize mediation or even work together to determine where their children will live and how much time will be spent with each parent. However, there are some cases in which parents are unable to resolve custody disputes without legal intervention. A family lawyer would likely advise these Buffalo Grove parents to prepare themselves for a potential child custody evaluation.

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child custody infographic

In Illinois, a judge may order an evaluation in order to more effectively determine a final custody ruling. The information presented in a courtroom may not be enough for a judge to feel comfortable awarding custody to either parent. An evaluation can provide a judge with a more in-depth look into the inner workings of a family’s relationships and interactions.

What is a child custody evaluation?

Before parents can begin to prepare for an evaluation, they should understand what the process entails and the purpose behind it. These formal investigations are performed by qualified professionals in order to provide the courts with the information needed to make appropriate child custody arrangements. State law requires that children’s best interests be the primary focus of custody determinations, and an evaluation is designed to find the strengths and weakness of both parties in the ability to provide positive parenting.

A child custody evaluation must be performed by a neutral, third-party professional who is approved by the court to execute the process from start to finish. Generally, mental health professionals, including psychologists, are chosen by both parents or by the judge from a list of qualified evaluators provided by the state. In order to complete the evaluation with accurate, unbiased results, the professional must not have had any working or personal relationship with any member of the family.

What happens during an evaluation?

Once a child custody evaluation is ordered by the court, the evaluator will begin the process of gathering information by completing several different tasks, including the following:

  • Performing interviews
  • Obtaining personal, educational and health documentation
  • Conducting tests and evaluations

Interviews may take place either in the home or in the evaluator’s office. Both parents and any involved children are interviewed separately, and group interviews may be held as well for further insight into familial interactions. Other important individuals in a child’s life may be interviewed as well, including grandparents, caretakers or teachers.

Psychological testing may be required if a judge wants further information about the mental status of the parents or children. These tests may be written psychological exams or basic observational evaluations administered by the evaluator.

The first impression

While an evaluator is required to be as objective and unbiased as possible, parents should also be aware that their first impression may have an impact on the outcome of the evaluation. A Buffalo Grove family lawyer knows that a spotless home and perfect physical appearance is not what the evaluator is looking for, but some effort to pick up and dress appropriately may be noticed.

Being organized can also give off a good first impression, and parents should try to have all required documentation in one place. Scrambling to find papers can be distracting, so having them close at hand can make it easier to stay calm and relaxed during the process.

Honesty is key

For some parents, it can be tempting to try to lie about certain issues in order to get what is wanted out of the evaluation. However, most evaluators are trained to pick up on the signals or behaviors that can show when someone is not being honest. If dishonestly is discovered, it would likely be included in the report provided to the judge, which could have negative consequences in the final outcome.

Regardless of mistakes made in the past, it is important to be fully and completely honest throughout the entire evaluation. It may be wise to come up with straightforward answers to anticipated questions before any interviews so as to avoid sidestepping the issue or trying to make justifications.

Separate marital issues

A bad spouse is not always a bad parent, and bringing up issues during an evaluation that have nothing to do with parenting or custody can create greater problems. Keeping spousal concerns between the parents and away from the children is the best way to promote the positive atmosphere that is more likely to result in better custody arrangements.

When an evaluator observes a parent who is unwilling to separate his or her anger and frustration with an ex-spouse, it may be determined that the bitter spouse may attempt to prevent interactions between the other parent and the children. A judge wants to see parents who are willing to cooperate on behalf of their children without letting other concerns get in the way.

Consult with legal assistance

Words, actions and attitudes can impact the results of a child custody evaluation. A family lawyer in Buffalo Grove can provide parents with advice throughout the process, giving reminders on how to act and behave. While parents should not pretend to be someone that they are not, they may also want to put their best food forward with the best interest of their children in mind. If questions or concerns come up before or during an evaluation, legal counsel may be able to offer suggestions and guidance.

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