An independent parenting evaluation may be performed in certain divorce and child custody cases. The court may order an evaluation, or the parties may agree to have one completed. This occurs most often in cases where the parents can’t come to any agreement about the two aspects of child custody:
- Legal decision-making authority
- Parenting time
Or, a parenting evaluation may be required when one parent accuses the other of child abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse.
The idea behind a parenting evaluation is to give insight to the judge on what parenting arrangements are in the best interest of the children. This is the guiding principle of all legal parenting decisions in Arizona.
Parenting evaluators, who are generally experienced social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists, do not have the power to order any particular outcome. Their job is only to provide the judge with evidence and an opinion. The judge will consider the evaluation and come to an independent decision.
What steps will the evaluator take?
If there will be a parenting evaluation in your case, here’s what you can expect. The evaluator will generally interview you, your children’s other parent, and the children about what life is like with each parent. The evaluator is unlikely to ask the children to choose which parent to live with, but instead get a sense of each parent’s strengths and weaknesses.
The evaluator may ask for psychological tests to be done on each parent. The family court may order these tests, or the parents may agree to take them.
The evaluator will probably interview several people you know in order to get a sense of your parenting style, strengths and weaknesses. The people to be interviewed often include people who know the family well, such as teachers, coaches, ministers, counselors, childcare workers and healthcare professionals. The evaluator may also interview the grandparents and other relatives, along with neighbors and family friends.
The evaluator may seek out informative documents, as well. For example, he or she may ask for school records, medical records, job evaluations and driving records — or any records that could provide insight into the parents’ strengths and weaknesses.
Once all of these interviews and tests are completed and all documents have been reviewed, the evaluator will write a report to the family court. This report will generally contain a final recommendation as to whether both parents should have legal decision-making authority over the children, where the children should primarily live, and how much parenting time each parent should have.
You and your attorney will respond to the evaluation once it is complete and make arguments as to why your preferred custody arrangement is in the best interest of your children.