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Most often, divorce can be an acrimonious and emotional process for parents. Mediation at Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services can also be used to help resolve disputes between parents as well as reduce acrimony between the parties.
Oftentimes, the court or attorneys may request your family to participate in a child custody evaluation. A custody evaluation at Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services is a comprehensive assessment of your family’s needs and the ability of each parent to meet those needs. The custody evaluation provides information about your family to help all parties involved (i.e., lawyers, court etc.) determine what will be in the best interests of your child(ren). Custody evaluations may also be used in post-decree cases, when parenting disputes arise after the initial divorce has been granted.
How does it work? Evaluations typically take six to ten sessions and are completed over six to twelve weeks. Sessions include both individual and joint sessions for parents as well as sessions with the child(ren). We also incorporate sessions with those individuals who are regularly involved with the child(ren). Some evaluations may take longer. All sessions are in-person.
Q: What is a custody evaluation?
A: A custody evaluation is an assessment of the needs of your child(ren) and each parent’s ability to meet those needs. Custody evaluations are attentive to past events, present resources and future needs of the family and are concerned with the strengths and weaknesses of both parents. The focus is on the best interests of the child(ren). A custody evaluation does not determine fault or blame on either parent nor does the evaluator take one parent’s side against the other.
Q: What happens in a custody evaluation?
A: A custody evaluation will consist of a series of interviews with all parties involved. Interviews include each parent, parents together, each child as well as the child(ren) with both parents. Individual interviews will give you the opportunity to present your issues and concerns about the children and the other parent. Conferences with both parents allow the evaluator the opportunity to assess parents’ capacity to work together. All interviews are conducted at Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services. Spending time with you and your child(ren) will allow the evaluator to observe the relationships between family members. You or the evaluator may request to interview other people in the child(ren)’s lives, including stepparents or domestic partners. This may result in additional cost but is important to the evaluation process.
The evaluator may request your written consent to obtain school and health records, social service and police information, and any other documents that contribute to a complete understanding of the family. The evaluator may wish to talk with some of these people (also known as collaterals) in order to understand how others see the issues.
Psychological testing may be required when information about each parent’s emotional and mental status would be helpful to the judge or attorneys. Your attorney, Custody Master or the Judge may request testing or the evaluator may determine the necessity for such testing. A psychological evaluation is conducted by a qualified clinician at Center Street Center. The clinician will want to talk with each parent and may administer several tests. You can ask the evaluator to tell you more about the kind of evaluation that is being requested. Again, there is additional costs associated with testing; however it may be deemed important to the evaluation process.
Q: Who is the custody evaluator?
A: The custody evaluators at MCES are all Licensed clinicians and are members of the AFCC. In addition to our mental health and psychological training, our custody evaluators are familiar with the laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have expertise in the divorce process and its effects on your family, and have an understanding of child development issues and the needs of your child(ren). You should be comfortable with the evaluator and feel free to ask questions about their qualifications, training and experience.
Q: How can I prepare for the evaluation?
A: The best way to prepare for the evaluation is to just be yourself and make sure to attend all scheduled sessions on time. The evaluator is there to help your family and to help the judge figure out what will be in the best interests of your child(ren) so your cooperation is expected and appreciated by all. You may still have a lot of hurt and angry feelings toward the other parent, but marital issues may not be relevant to child custody issues. Don’t think of the custody evaluation process as a win/lose situation. This is a good time to put the past behind you, focus on the future and do what’s best for your child(ren). Plan to be open and honest with the evaluator. Consult with your attorney as needed throughout the evaluation process. Keep your appointments as scheduled. Organize school and health records, and other information that the evaluator may ask to review. Make notes of the questions you want to ask during the evaluation process. If you have information that you want to provide to the evaluator, please make sure to have a copy of the information for the other parent as well.
Q: Will the children be interviewed?
A: Our custody evaluators will interview and observe your child(ren). The evaluator understands that children may be experiencing a range of feelings about the divorce. Depending upon the ages of the children, the evaluator may have the children participate in structured play, draw pictures or tell stories in order to express their feelings. Parents often want to know, “Will the evaluator ask my children where they want to live?” Children’s thoughts, feelings and experiences are important. However, the evaluator will not ask children to choose between parents. This would not be fair to the children and only keeps them in the middle of your dispute.
Q: What happens to the custody evaluation information?
A: At the end of the evaluation process, the evaluators at MCES will prepare a written report of their assessment to the court and each of your attorneys if you have one. The report is intended to give the court a clear picture of the family and to provide information about how the child(ren)’s needs can best be addressed. The evaluator’s report may submit specific recommendations to the court. An evaluation can only be completed if both parents have been interviewed. You will not have access to the written report. However, your attorney may share the information with you to help you understand the recommendations. On occasion, the report may be restricted to the court and attorneys. The written report is considered a confidential document and can be ordered sealed by the court.
Q: How much does a custody evaluation cost?
A: Center Street Center and Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services provides reduced fee custody evaluations as part of our commitment as a Benefit Limited Liability Company. Typically, the average fee for a custody evaluation in the Commonwealth is between $8,000-15,000. Our fees are nearly a quarter of that fee. Typically, the fees are divided between the parents. However, one party may be required to or agree to pay the complete fee. Ask your attorney or the court about your responsibility to pay for the evaluation. All evaluations must be paid in full prior to release of the final written report. For fees, click the MCES Fees link.
Q: What if we reach an agreement of custody during the evaluation?
A: The evaluation process can often help parents agree on parenting arrangements. Inform the evaluator immediately if you and the other parent reach an agreement. The evaluator can assist in helping both parents come up with a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child(ren). Such a plan would be provided to the attorneys and cour on your behalf in the manner of a final report. If a parenting plan is mutually agreed upon, it may save parents both time and legal fees. More importantly, agreeing on a parenting plan that you both believe is in the best interests of your child(ren) is best for the child(ren).
Q: What does “best interests” mean?
A: The courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania require that child custody decisions use the “best interests” standard. Defining this term is a complex matter and definitions vary. However, “best interests” generally takes into consideration that a) your children have the right to love both parents and to have access to each parent without interference, b) all children benefit from an absence of conflict between their parents. Children do better if parents cooperate and work together, c) children need to be safe, secure and protected from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, d) children of different ages have different needs. Two-year old children do not need the same parenting arrangements as 12-year-old children. The custody evaluator will consider your children’s specific needs as well as their adjustment to home, school and their social environment, e) child(ren)'s need for continuity. Parenting schedules should be followed so that children can depend on and look forward to time with each parent, f) children do best when parents support a relationship with the other parent. Don’t ask your children to choose between you and the other parent.
Need more information? Call 484.896.9161 today! Or email us at email@example.com and let us know how we can help you and your family.
Dr. Hill has more than fifteen years of providing comprehensive, professional mediation and custody evaluations for you and your family. As a member of the AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts), Tracy brings a breadth and depth of knowledge to Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services (“MCES”). Additionally, she provides supervision for all evaluators at MCES.