3 Signs of a Bad Custody Evaluation and How do you prepare for parenting evaluation?

While it is common for a parent to be resentful toward their ex, he or she should not badmouth them in front of the child or the evaluator. It makes it look like one is trying to poison the child’s opinion of the other parent or use emotion instead of facts to sway the case.

Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Kay and Arnold have just finalized their divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. They share a daughter together, a seven-year-old named Lisa. For a few months, they have been engaged in a custody battle over their daughter, with Kay declaring that she would make the better custodian because “a girl needs a mother.” Arnold, however, has a different opinion. He claims that Kay shows little interest in Lisa, preferring to work and travel. Arnold argues that before the divorce, he was acting as a stay-at-home dad, and therefore has a greater and more important presence in Lisa’s life. The court orders a custody evaluation to determine what custody arrangement would be best for young Lisa. The evaluator assigned to the case spends most of her time talking to Kay, who smears Arnold as an incompetent father. Arnold worries that the evaluator is biased toward his ex and is not listening to the facts of the case. To him, these seem like signs of a bad custody evaluation. Arnold wonders what he should do.

Signs of a Bad Custody Evaluation

In California, a court may order a custody evaluation in order to help determine what kind of custody arrangement best suits a child. Custody evaluations usually happen after other mediation has failed, and the parents are resentful toward one another. In this situation, a custody evaluator creates a report. These evaluators are considered experts, normally psychologists or therapists. Their duty is to create as objective a report as possible, not taking sides with either parent. It is possible, however, for one party to feel unfairly judged.

While a custody evaluator is supposed to give an objective, unbiased report, it is possible that this might not happen. If a parent feels that they are not getting a fair say, or are being portrayed in an overly negative light, then they should keep an eye out for signs of a bad custody evaluation.

Some of these signs include the following:

1. Spending More Time with One Parent

If a custody evaluator is spending too much time with one parent and seems to be scrutinizing them more than the other, that may be a sign of a bad evaluation. The scrutinized parent may feel unfairly singled out.

Similarly, if a custody evaluator seems to be giving too much positive attention to one parent, the other may not feel heard. An evaluator should not play favorites. They should be focused on the welfare of the child and not choose the side of a particular parent based on their personal preferences.

Example: The evaluator in Kay’s and Arnold’s case spends most of her time talking to Kay. From what Arnold can tell, the two seem quite friendly. Arnold is concerned that the evaluator is siding more with Kay, not allowing Arnold any time to give his version of events.

2. Not Listening to the Facts

When an evaluator talks with the parents and asks questions, they should be listening to facts presented by both sides. They should focus on the good and bad presented by both sides, remaining unbiased.

Example: When Arnold talks with the evaluator, he gives evidence of how he has cared for his daughter Lisa. His ex-wife, he says, rarely spent time with their daughter. She would go on a long business trip every month, and when she was home, she would spend more time at the spa and out with friends than with her daughter. Arnold was a stay-at-home dad, caring for their daughter while Kay was at work or traveling. Arnold makes sure to bring up the time Kay forgot to pick up their daughter from daycare. She had said, “I have so many other things to think about.” While Arnold thinks these facts are important to the case, the evaluator doesn’t seem interested. Instead, she brings up less-convincing facts from Kay’s point of view, challenging Arthur’s story.

3. Permitting Bad Behavior

If an ex is allowed to badmouth another, or otherwise engage in bad behavior, that could be a sign of a bad evaluator. Especially if the ex’s behavior is interfering with the children involved, it should be noted in the report. However, a bad evaluator may side with the misbehaving parent and focus unfairly on the other parent, zeroing in on everything they do.

Example: Arnold knows that his ex-wife Kay is badmouthing him to the evaluator. She has called him a deadbeat, accused him of being unmotivated, and even said he doesn’t know how to raise a daughter because he is a man. Meanwhile, Kay has barely spoken to or spent time with Lisa, other than giving her a Barbie doll before jetting off to Vegas for a work function. While talking to Arnold at a playground, the evaluator witnesses Lisa fall and skin her knee. While Arnold picks her up, he notices the evaluator shaking her head and tsk-ing. He worries he is being overly scrutinized while Kay’s bad behavior is being overlooked.

While it is unlikely that a parent will ever deal with a bad evaluator, the situation can sometimes arise. Evaluators are professionals and do their best to produce an unbiased and fair report for the sake of the children in question. Still, there are tips a parent can use to improve his or her chances in an evaluation.

1. Be Open to Compromise

A parent who is not flexible or willing to give up any parenting time or custody will not present well during the evaluation. A parent should act in the best interests of the child, even if that means giving up time or making changes. Cooperation looks good to an evaluator while stubbornness does not.

2. Don’t Smear the Other Parent

While it is common for a parent to be resentful toward their ex, he or she should not badmouth them in front of the child or the evaluator. It makes it look like one is trying to poison the child’s opinion of the other parent or use emotion instead of facts to sway the case. Remaining calm will reflect better on the parent than giving into anger.

3. Focus on the Children

The end goal of custody arrangements is to do what’s best for the kids involved. By showing that he or she cares more about the welfare of the child than his or her own desires or ego, a parent will appear in a better light before the evaluator.

4. Be Prepared

An evaluator will request paperwork and other information, so it is best to be prepared. Every document should be handed in when it is due. Tardiness comes across as disorganization, which does not play well to an evaluator.

5. Don’t Give Children a Script

It is normal for an evaluator to want to speak with the children involved. If a child is simply repeating whatever a parent told them to say, it will be difficult for the evaluator to make the correct decision for the child. Evaluators know what signs to look for that a child has been given a script. This will play extremely poorly against the parent if discovered.

6. Don’t Get Personal

It may be tempting to become friendly with the evaluator. By sharing personal information or otherwise inviting sympathy, a parent might hope the evaluator will help them with their case. This is not advisable. A professional evaluator will recognize what the parent is doing and won’t appreciate the attempt to undermine their authority. Also, if the parent succeeds in becoming friends with the evaluator, the case will be damaged if the other parent finds out.

What To Do if Treated Unfairly

It is possible that a parent might feel unfairly judged by an evaluator. It might be that he or she has not considered the facts provided by that parent. Or perhaps there is no obvious logic behind their conclusions.

If a parent believes that his evaluator was unfair and he or she noticed one or more of the above signs, then the parent’s attorney can file a motion to have the recommendation struck and the evaluator disqualified. This a difficult thing to accomplish, however. Because evaluators are professionals, without solid evidence, it can be difficult to prove that they were biased.

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