Child Custody Evaluation
If you are involved in a heated child custody dispute in Wisconsin, either as part of the divorce process or in a paternity case, you may benefit from a child custody evaluation. This is a valuable tool your divorce lawyer may want to employ to make it clear to the court where your child should be. In some counties in Wisconsin, the court itself will order a child custody evaluation to be done, and the court will appoint a county Social Worker to perform the evaluation. If you do not live in a county that typically orders these evaluations, your divorce lawyer may try to move the court to order it, or get the other party to agree to cooperate with such an evaluation, and use a private, licensed psychologist to perform the evaluation. The result is a valuable recommendation to the court on custody and placement form a trusted professional. Your Wisconsin divorce attorney will be able to recommend who in your area is qualified to perform a custody study.
Wisconsin Court Ordered Custody Evaluations
In counties where the court typically orders evaluations, the county family court services will appoint a social worker to perform the evaluation, also referred to as a “custody study”. The court charges the parties the cost to perform the evaluation. In most counties, the amount of the custody study fee will be determined by the combined gross income of both households involved, and can range anywhere from $500-$2000. The social worker appointed will do a very thorough investigation, in some ways similar to an investigation done by a GAL, but often in much more detail.
The social worker will consider many factors before making a recommendation to the court on custody and placement. He or she will typically interview both parents, children of an appropriate age, involved relatives, any significant others that may live with the parents, school teachers and counselors, and any other care givers for the children. They will probably review relevant medical records, mental health records, school records, and reports of any police involvement. They may look at criminal background of the parents or whether either party has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and what treatment they may have undergone for these addictions. Once they have completed their investigation, they will provide a written letter of recommendation to the court regarding the custody and placement of the minor child or children.
Custody Evaluations and Psychologists
If your divorce or custody lawyer has requested custody study to be done because you do not live in a county in Wisconsin that typically orders them through the court, you will have to hire a private, licensed psychologist to perform the evaluation. Psychologists will perform their evaluation in a very clinical manner, and often will treat you as any other patient in a clinical setting. It is important when choosing which psychologist to hire that you consider the following factors:
- How long has he or she been practicing?
- How many custody evaluations has he or she done in the past?
- Are they qualified to deal with any special needs or developmental challenges your child may have?
- Have they testified in court before?
- How many times have they testified in Wisconsin custody trials or Wisconsin divorce court?
- What is your Wisconsin divorce attorney’s opinion of this professional? Have they had any experiences with them, negative or positive?
Another important factor to consider when choosing a psychologist for a custody study is what their fees are. While they are a mental health professional, they are not treating you, and it is likely your health insurance will not cover the expense. This is an important factor to consider, because there fees are generally based on an hourly rate and will require a retainer fee upfront. A typical retainer fee can be anywhere from $2,000-$5,000 or higher, and the hourly fees can easily exhaust whatever retainer you paid. If the psychologist is asked to testify in court, they will charge their hourly fee for that as well, and that is typically paid by whichever party calls them as a witness.
The way a private psychologist will conduct their investigation differs greatly from the custody study a county Social Worker may conduct. Much of the evaluation will occur in a clinical setting rather than home visits. The study may include various tests conducted in a clinical setting, for example, a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or a Personality Assessment Inventory. It is important that during these tests, you are relaxed, and answer the interviewer’s questions as openly and honestly as possible. Often these types of tests put stress on the parents and one may put forth a special effort to present themselves in the best light possible, downplaying their flaws or denying any at all. If you try to present yourself that way, the interviewer will likely not see you as credible and will state that any results of such a test should be disregarded. Every parent has flaws, and no parent child relationship is perfect.
The psychologist will typically interview both parents separately, and they will observe both parents in activities with the child or children. They will interview collateral contacts such as grandparents and caregivers. They will then produce a very thorough report on the background of each parent, their family history, how each party responded to the various tests conducted, and what their observations were of each parent’s interactions with their child or children. Most importantly, it will include a recommendation on what they believe to be the best scenario for the custody and placement of your minor child.
Custody Evaluations and the outcome of your case
Whoever does the evaluation, it is going to be used as evidence in your contested custody battle, and may end up being a critical factor in determining the where your child will lay their head at night. If your case goes to trial the evaluator will probably be called as a witness at your trial. The court will consider heavily the findings of that report. In most custody cases, a Guardian ad Litem will have been appointed for your children. The results of the custody evaluation and the opinion and recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem are two of the most important pieces of evidence that a Judge will consider when making a decision about custody and placement. In order to make sure that this is in your favor, call John T. Fields & Associates and let us guide you through this difficult process. We have worked with many caring professionals over the years and can help you get the best result possible for your child.