Child custody can pose many challenging issues making it difficult for couples to reach a custody agreement. Ideally couples will work together to create a parenting plan and schedule that is acceptable for all parties.
Realistically the courts will frequently be required to decide what is best for the child and create custody orders that reflect the findings of the court.
For men mired in a contentious custody battle, the idea of the court deciding the case can be an unsettling proposition that often raises the question “how does the court decide custody?”
In Oregon, custody evaluations are extremely helpful if there are elusive facts that are hard to prove in court. Evaluators are not constrained by evidentiary rules—they can review documents, speak to witnesses, speak to the children, request assessments (drug, alcohol, psychiatric etc.) to determine what is truly best for the children.
Custody evaluations can be much more thorough and less costly overall than pure litigation.
Parenting evaluations frequently result in settlement since the court deems the recommendations to be impartial. This can minimize legal cost because a Judge is more likely to follow the recommendations of a neutral, experience third party and will minimize additional attorney fees associated with litigation.
In Oregon, custody or parenting time evaluations are initiated by the parties involved, not the court. One or both of the parties can request the evaluation and the court has discretion to appoint an evaluator if they deem it necessary.
Usually the attorneys agree to a private evaluator however if they cannot the court may make the choice. The cost of a private evaluator ranges between $3000 to $7000. Usually the party requesting the evaluation pays the fee and the court reserves contribution to trial (which rarely occurs so be prepared to pay for it if you request it).
The courts have several goals in determining custody. These goals, as identified by the National Association of Social Workers, include:
- Identify the developmental needs of the child(ren);
- Identify the strengths, vulnerabilities, and needs of all other members of the family;
- Identify the positive and negative family interactions;
- Develop a plan for custody and access utilizing the strengths of each individual that will serve the best interests of the child(ren) and within those parameters, the wishes and interests of the parents
How is a parenting evaluation conducted?
A parenting evaluation is a formal investigation to assess the parenting skills of the parties involved and to determine which parent is best suited to be the primary caregiver for the child.
The parenting evaluation process will include interviews with both parents, significant caretakers, and the child (or children). Home visits to the parents’ respective residences are common as well as the review of records and psychological evaluations.
In addition to interviews and assessments, documentation will play a vital role in the parenting evaluation. The more relevant documentation you can provide to support your case, the better off you will be. It is important to note that relevancy is paramount.
Sheer volumes of irrelevant documents will do nothing to further your case, and in fact may end up costing you extra money in evaluation fees and hurt your argument. Providing relevant and organized documentation will show that you are methodical and dedicated to providing credible information.
Parenting evaluations are a nerve-wracking experience and working with an experienced family law attorney can be invaluable. A knowledgeable attorney will work with you to create a custody strategy and guide you through the entire evaluation process.
It is imperative educate yourself on your rights and your options as a father —the outcome of your evaluation will impact your relationship with your child for many years.