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If you and your spouse cannot agree with each other over who is to have primary physical custody of your minor child, you may find yourself facing further scrutiny. The family court judge will make an effort to look at the facts available to determine custody, but often the need for more fact-finding exists. In many cases, family court judges rely on third party opinions by specially trained professionals to assist in making this all-important decision.
Child Custody Experts
These court-appointed experts normally hold degrees in the mental health or social science fields, and they are often licensed clinical social workers, licensed mental health counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Often, these professionals have special licenses for working with children and families.
What Happens First?
Often, the family court will provide you and your spouse with a list of experts from which to choose. You should understand that the expense for this expert's help is not borne by the court, but by you, and it is not inexpensive. You can expect to pay for this service, and it will cost more if another specialist needs to be brought in. In some cases, your health insurance may pay some or all of this expense, but make sure you understand the financial obligation ahead of time.
How the Evaluation Process Works
You can expect the expert to spend several sessions with all involved parties; your child alone, you and your child together, your spouse and the child, and so on. The expert will be using play therapy to observe the relative mental health of your child and how the child interacts with each parent. In most cases, even if you are not actually in the room with your child, you will be permitted to observe the evaluation. The expert may also interview other related parties, such as other family members, you doctors, teachers, etc.
How You Should Handle This Evaluation Process
No matter how confident you may be in your ability to be a good parent, being evaluated can be extremely intimidating and stressful. The stakes are very high, so you want to do your best, however. Try to stay calm and count on your relationship with your child to tell the story, but stay alert to issues. Let your attorney, such as Reagan, Melton, & Delaney LLP, know right away if you perceive a problem. For example, if you sense that the expert is showing bias towards your spouse, you may need to put a stop to the evaluation and request another expert.
Stay in close touch with your attorney and make the best of this important and stressful situation. Above all, know your rights and allow your attorney to assert them.