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What is a child custody evaluation?

Depending on the circumstances surrounding a marriage, a divorce can be hotly contested in several areas. Property division can lead to disagreement, particularly as it relates to the parties' financial resources and sentimentality. Alimony, too, can be a contested issue, again, focusing on an individual's financial well-being post-divorce. But, in some instances, no other issue is more contentious than child custody.

When parents cannot come to an agreement in regards to child custody, the decision will be left to the court. In an attempt to help the court come to a decision that supports the best interests of the child involved, a court may order a child custody evaluation. An evaluation seeks to assess the needs of the parents and their child, identify the parents' strengths and weaknesses and look at custody arrangements through a lens that incorporates the family's history, present situation and future. The evaluation process does not seek to place blame or take sides.

The process can be quite in-depth. Interviews will likely be conducted with each parent to identify any concerns. An interview with each parent and the child may also occur to see how the parent and child interact together. A child, too, can be interviewed, but the child will not be asked to choose one parent over the other. Parents may also be asked to take tests or undergo psychological evaluation to assess their mental status.

Fighting over child custody can be an emotional process. Parents should be sure they are prepared to show why they are best suited to further their child's best interests, as that is what a judge will be looking for.

Source: Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, "Preparing for your Custody Evaluation," accessed on March 4, 2016

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