Bill is a professional counselor in private practice in Altoona, PA, and is experienced with divorced families and custody evaluations.
What Is a Custody Evaluation?
It is not uncommon for people in custody battles to work very hard at painting a picture of their ex as a complete loser of a human being and the most inadequate parent of all time to use the court system as a weapon. One of the ways some jurisdictions make the custody battle fair is to order a professional custody evaluation of both parties. In other jurisdictions, there is no such thing as a custody evaluation. In some places, evaluations are paid for by the court, while others require the participants to pay for the service.
Professionally completed child custody evaluations can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars if the court permits them. A custody evaluation is, at the root, a presentation of evidence and facts surrounding the life and lifestyle of an individual so that a judge, who is unable to dedicate the amount of time needed for such study, has unbiased, factual materials to help with their decision about custody. This template outlines important data that may go into a custody evaluation concerning a parent. No matter who is paying for the evaluation, or who is completing the evaluation, most of the points of evaluation in this template should be covered.
If you live in a place that does not have custody evaluations ordered or available, or if you cannot afford one, you might consider producing an evaluation of yourself. Of course, you will not be as objective as an independent, professional evaluator, but you might just be able to produce a picture of who you are as a person and parent that will help at least your attorney find talking points about your viability as a parent.
It is important to understand that what you are trying to produce is an accurate portrait to a judge concerning who you are as a human being and parent. As such, be sure that you are brutally honest with the data and evidence that you produce to show to the court. And remember that this about you and the adults that live in your home, not your ex or who lives in their home!
Demographics, Economics, Home, and Legal
Make a demographic page for every individual that resides in the home. Again, be very honest about this. If you have a paramour, include them in this area. The data needs to include full name, date of birth, the grade and name of the school for the children, personal and work phone numbers as well as location of employment and vehicle make, model, and year for all adults. It also may be a good option to add adult education levels, special trainings of adults, race, languages spoken, and religious affiliations.
Judges want to see the picture of the household make-up in order to see how manageable the situation is for you. There is a difference between a single-parent household with eight kids and one that has two kids, or one that has four kids and two responsible adults, or one adult with no criminal record and one that has outstanding warrants. If you are a blended family, and adults and kids come and go throughout a week or month, draw up a simple graphic that shows who is in the house and when.
An economic picture needs to be created, demonstrating weekly, monthly, and yearly income, as well as the sources of that income. Copies of paychecks, bonuses, and expenses need to be condensed to be readable and easily understood. Be sure to make a list of your major assets, like savings and investment accounts, home equity, and owned vehicles of all types. Making a list of your weekly and monthly expenses will show the reader the ratio of income to expenses. Simple one-page listings of income, expenses, and assets are most helpful, taking care not to inflate income or leave out expenses for effect. Again, be honest! By completing this section, you might be on your way to even creating a useful budget for your finances.
Judges want to get a feel for your economic stability and consistency of income. This demonstrates to them that you are fiscally responsible and can actually care of the child(ren) not just now, but into the future. You don’t have to be rich, but you do have to show that you can hold a job and take care of living expenses for yourself and kids.
Decent, clear photos of the exterior of your residence and each interior room are desirable. These do not have to be professional photos, but be sure that they are clear and well lit. Open all draperies in the room, and stand in each corner of the room, and take a shot to the other corner at eye level. While you don’t have to be overly concerned about neatness and cleanliness, it’s a good idea to make the spaces presentable. Be sure to label each photo.
Of course, you do not have to own the home, you can be a renter. If you do rent, be sure to include a copy of your lease, and proof of payment of your rent for six to twelve months prior. Hopefully, you have been in the same place that long. If you are buying a residence, you should demonstrate your mortgage payments in the same fashion.
Judges like to get visuals of where the child lives out their life, and if the residence meets minimum requirements. In most cases, most residences do meet this requirement, but remember that judges see and hear all kinds of horrible situations that kids have been exposed to, so you want to reassure them that where you live is acceptable.
List any current or historical legal issues as clearly and concisely as possible, and not just any criminal issues, but civil ones as well. Don’t leave anything out, even parking tickets. Be sure to describe the disposition of each issue, or if the issue is still open. If you have no criminal issues, it’s best to demonstrate that by completing any available background checks that your state has available on yourself and any other adults who live in your home.
In most states, for a small fee, you can have a state police check completed, as well as a child abuse check completed. At the federal level, you can have an FBI check completed, but this costs a bit more and will require you to provide fingerprints. FBI checks can be most helpful if you or another adult in your home has lived in multiple states.
The reasons for this section should be obvious: Judges do not take kindly to kids being exposed to adults with warrants or histories of felonies. If you have any associations with any such people, it is best to cut yourself off from them, not just distance yourself.
Health, Education, Parenting, and Activities
Health and Medical
Contact your physician’s office and request a copy of your last two to three years of medical attendance records. You may not want your entire medical record, especially because these tend to be quite bulky and contain a lot of pretty much inconsequential and useless material. What you are looking for are routine exam records that note any ongoing illnesses or health issues, and how they are being treated.
If anyone on the home has a disability, either physical, developmental, or behavioral, that needs to be included in the section. Psychological evaluations, current treatments (such as counseling, group therapies, physical therapies, etc.) need to be listed, along with the treatment provider’s name and signed (by you) release of information sheets for each service. You can get a release form from the service provider, and the provider and you should have a signed and dated copy of the release of information.
This is an important section because it helps the judge understand some critical areas of the child’s needs. Even if your child does not have a behavioral health counselor, or is in any physical therapy for a disability, you should make it clear in this section that they do not have any of those issues. For example: “Physical disabilities: none”, or “Behavioral therapies or mental health counseling: none”. If there is a history of such services, list them, including the name of the service provider and contact information, along with diagnosis, treatment type, and dates.
Education and Employment
If you have a professional resume, print it off and include it in this section. Include your current job, with a phone number and a supervisor that can verify that you work there. Also include a recent paystub in this section. Include any memberships in professional organizations, or licenses to engage in the work that you do.
You should provide copies of each child’s report cards and any other school reports available over the past year or so from the date of your report. Most judges weigh heavily when it comes to school performance and attendance. If there are excessive school absences, you will need to provide documentation regarding the “whys and wherefores” of that problem.
Make It Look Professional
Put in the extra time, effort, and resources to help your self-report appear as professional and neat as possible. Don’t go for the cheap, recycled plastic spiral-bound notebook; get something with a quality paper or cloth cover, in an un-decorated, neutral tone. Use plastic sheet covers for any documents, rather than taping or gluing them to a sheet of paper. Try to buy a step up in quality from the cheapest plastic sheet covers you can find.
Organize the materials according to a logical flow, as the template is laid out, and consider including an index at the front, along with page edge tabs for quick and easy reference. It is fine to make extra copies of everything if several people need to review the evaluation, but the original copy must be maintained if it to be used to present to a judge, with all original documents.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 William E Krill Jr