The popular movie, Marriage Story, presents a scene where a parent and his child are subject to a custody evaluation – an uncomfortable and awkward affair that leaves the parent feeling quite vulnerable.
In reality, few parents welcome having their relationship with their child scrutinized by a stranger regardless of their professional credentials, especially one who can sway the outcome of a custody dispute.
That said, if parents cannot agree on a parenting arrangement, a professional evaluation is sometimes necessary so that a judge can determine what parenting time and responsibility arrangements are in the best interests of the child.
Typically, in a custody dispute, one parent may ask the court for a custody evaluation (aka 604b evaluation) prompting a judge to appoint a professional from a list of approved custody evaluators. Parents and their attorneys may weigh in on the selection or the judge will decide. Parents will pay the fees for the professional evaluation. (750 ILCS 5/604.1(b)
Sec. 604.10. Interviews; evaluations; investigation.
(a) Court's interview of child. The court may interview the child in chambers to ascertain the child's wishes as to the allocation of parental responsibilities. Counsel shall be present at the interview unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties. The entire interview shall be recorded by a court reporter. The transcript of the interview shall be filed under seal and released only upon order of the court.
(b) Court's professional. The court may seek the advice of any professional, whether or not regularly employed by the court, to assist the court in determining the child's best interests. The advice to the court shall be in writing and sent by the professional to counsel for the parties and to the court not later than 60 days before the date on which the trial court reasonably anticipates the hearing on the allocation of parental responsibilities will commence. The court may review the writing upon receipt. The writing may be admitted into evidence without testimony from its author, unless a party objects. A professional consulted by the court shall testify as the court's witness and be subject to cross-examination. The court shall order all costs and fees of the professional to be paid by one or more of the parties, subject to reallocation in accordance with subsection (a) of Section 508.
Custody evaluations can take a few weeks or months to complete. Evaluations may be broad, or limited in scope to answer specific questions a court may have such as if a move is in the best interests of a child or are overnight visits age appropriate. The custody evaluation will culminate in a written report submitted to the court and will often include specific recommendations.
The Custody Evaluation Process at a Glance
- The first meeting with an evaluator will probably be an office based meeting with both parents – together or separately – to discuss the process, schedule future appointments, and arrange for the payment of fees.
- Subsequent office-based meetings will likely involve interviewing each parent to fill in background information, get to know their parenting styles, and discuss any concerns they have about the other parent. Following the initial interview sessions, parents may be asked to undergo psychological and personality based assessments.
- Home based or office based observations of each parent with the child present will follow, and at some point, the evaluator will interview a child one on one.
- The evaluator may contact ‘collateral contacts’ – people who can attest to each parent’s character helping them to assess each parent’s ability to meet their child’s needs.
- The evaluator will review any pertinent information provided by the parents or their attorneys as part of the ongoing evaluation.
- At the conclusion of the evaluation, the evaluator will provide their findings to the court.
Most parents want what is best of their child, but may not agree on parenting time or responsibility in a divorce. Sometimes having a mental health professional weigh in can provide needed clarity to act in the child’s best interests. However, having a skilled Illinois child custody attorney on your side can overcome the differences between the parties allowing parents to work together on a parenting plan. If you are facing a potential child custody dispute, it is important to work with an experienced divorce attorney to achieve a favorable outcome. Contact Libertyville divorce lawyer Ronald L Bell & Associates PC for immediate assistance at 847-495-6000.