Cleveland Family Law Attorneys
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What is a Child Custody Evaluation?

Determining What’s Best for a Child

When parents in Ohio cannot agree on child custody, the court may order, or a party may request, a child custody evaluation. A custody evaluation is an expert study and analysis, performed by an individual qualified to be a custody evaluator, of the needs and development of a child or children in a parenting matter, as well as the comparative and relative capacities of the parties or other relevant adults to care for and meet the needs and best interest of that child or children. The evaluation addresses issues such as the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, companionship, parenting time, and visitation through a series of interviews with parents, other family members, and professionals who know the family dynamics. This blog will discuss the basics of what a child custody evaluation entails and how it may impact your case.

Purpose of a Child Custody Evaluation

The primary goal of a child custody evaluation is to help the court understand what kind of custody arrangement is in a child's best interest. The evaluator will look at several factors during their investigation, such as each parent's ability to meet the child's emotional, physical, and educational needs and any issues related to substance abuse or domestic violence that could impact custody arrangements. The evaluator may also consider any special needs a child may have, as well as their preferences about where they would like to live.

Parts of a Child Custody Evaluation

When the court orders a child custody evaluation in an Ohio child custody case, the evaluation generally involves a comprehensive assessment of the family's situation. This often includes interviews with parents and other people involved in the child's life, like relatives, teachers, and counselors, interviews with the child or children at issue, review of results of clinical tests administered, and even an investigation relative to whether a history of child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, psychiatric illness or other involvement with the legal system. Depending on the details of the case, some evaluations may also include a home visit or observation of the child(ren) with the parents or other appropriate adults involved in the litigation.

It is important to note that any custody evaluation is subject to the local rules of the court in which the case is being litigated. Furthermore, the expansiveness of further investigation in a custody evaluation is subject to the discretion of the specific custody evaluator appointed to the matter.

Impact of a Child Custody Evaluation

The results of a child custody evaluation can be very impactful on an Ohio child custody case. Ultimately, the evaluator's findings are to be prepared in a written report filed with a court. This written report will provide a detailed analysis of the strengths and areas in need of improvement of the parties relative to meeting the needs of the child(ren), as well as an analysis of different parenting plans under consideration. Moreover, the written report is likely to help inform the court's decision on which custody or parenting/companionship time arrangement is in the best interest of the child(ren) at issue.

Both parents must cooperate with the evaluator and provide as much information as possible to accurately assess the family dynamics and develop an informed recommendation for the court. If a parent fails to cooperate with the evaluator, it could harm their case.

Fees Associated with a Custody Evaluation

It would be irresponsible to discuss the topic of custody evaluations without mentioning the fees associated with this service. Prior to appointing a custody evaluator, it’s important to do your due diligence and inquire as to the anticipated fees charged by the custody evaluator. At this stage, all parties to the case have the right to be heard on the issue of how reasonable fees and expenses are to be allocated.

If the parties cannot agree as to how the fees of a custody evaluator are to be divided between them, then the court has the discretion to decide if the appointment would be appropriate to that specific case, given the financial resources of the parties, the issues at hand, and each party’s ability to pay the anticipated fees. If the court believes a custody evaluation should proceed, then the court has the discretion to issue an order allocating the payment of the evaluator’s reasonable fees and expenses between the parties.

Get the Help of an Ohio Child Custody Attorney

Child custody evaluations can be intimidating, but they may be essential to your case in helping the court make an informed custody decision. Both parents should strive to cooperate fully with the evaluator and provide as much relevant information as possible. Doing so can help ensure that the court considers all necessary factors to determine what kind of arrangement would be in the child(ren)'s best interest.

If you are involved in a child custody dispute and need assistance, do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced family law attorney who can help you through this process and can more specifically discuss the benefits of a custody evaluation relative to your matter. At Laubacher & Co., we always work to meet our clients' needs throughout the legal process, and we will work to protect your parental rights.

Learn more about how we can help with child custody or schedule a consultation by calling (440) 336-8687 or visiting our website.