Child custody cases pose many issues during and after divorce. Problems arise that make it difficult for couples to reach a suitable custody agreement. Ideally, both parties will work together to create a parenting plan and residential schedule acceptable for both.
But that doesn’t always happen. In reality, parents often have to turn to the courts to issue custody orders.
For parents mired in contentious custody battles, going to court can be an unsettling proposition. The question of how the courts decide custody comes up often. At a basic level, the best interests of the child take precedence over other concerns. Above convenience, parental preference, and all the rest.
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In Oregon, custody evaluations frequently play a role in these cases. 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.
An impartial third party examines the facts at hand and advises the court about what is truly best for the children. Evaluations aren’t court cases and so evaluators aren’t constrained by evidentiary rules. They can review documents, speak to witnesses, speak to the children, request assessments (drug, alcohol, psychiatric etc.). All of this goes into determining the ideal course of action.
Custody evaluations can be much more thorough and less costly overall than pure litigation.
The courts view these appraisals and recommendations as an objective. As a result, parenting evaluations often result in settlements. Often, this minimizes legal costs, attorney fees, and time associated with lengthy litigation.
Though the court often puts a lot of stock in these evaluations, in Oregon, the parties involved initiate them. One or both parents can request such an option. In most cases, the attorneys agree to a private evaluator. But if they can’t, the courts have the discretion to make the choice and appoint one.
Parenting evaluations can be quite expensive, often running thousands of dollars depending on the circumstance. Usually the party who makes the request foots the bill and the court reserves the contribution to trial. However, this rarely happens, so if you make the request, be prepared to pay the tab when the time comes.
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When determining child custody, the courts keep several goals in mind. Identified by the National Association of Social Workers, these are:
- 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.
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How is a Parenting Evaluation Conducted?
A parenting evaluation contains a number of things. Interviews form a big part of the process. This includes talking to both parents, the child, significant caretakers, and people who spend a significant amount of time with the kids. Basically, anyone who knows the child well and can offer insight into the situation, like teachers, daycare providers, and others.
Home visits to both parents’ residences factor in, as do psychological assessments. Records and documentation are also important. 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 when it comes to documentation. Sheer volumes of irrelevant paperwork does nothing to further your case. In fact, it may end up costing you extra money in evaluation fees and hurt your argument. Providing relevant and organized documentation shows you’re 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 professional can work with you to create a custody strategy and guide you through the entire process.
It is imperative to educate yourself on your rights and your options as a father. The outcome of your parenting evaluation may impact your relationship with your child for years to come.
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