Child custody disputes are often hotly contested. In many cases, each parent believes he or she knows what is best for the child in question, but their visions don’t always align. In fact, in many instances their beliefs about what are best for the child are completely opposite. When these child custody disputes can’t be settled outside of court, the ultimate decision is left in the hands of a judge who knows very little, if anything, about the family. This is why a court, when requested by one of the parents, will sometimes order a child custody evaluation.
A child custody evaluation is the examination of each parent, and sometimes the child, in accordance with Florida Rules 12.360 and 12.363. These evaluations, which are usually conducted by mental health professionals, seek to gather information about the parents’ physical and mental conditions, their parenting styles and any other issues that may be pertinent to the matter before the court, such as those relating to child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and substance abuse.
There are a variety of ways that these examinations can be conducted. Of course, interviews are the most common, but an examination can also include observations of the parents’ homes, an analysis of collateral information provided through documentation and witness accounts and even certain kinds of testing.
Once the examination is completed, the examiner must compile a report for submission to the judge. If the parties agree with the outcome of the examination, then the report is admissible and can be utilized as evidence during a child custody proceeding. If one party disagrees with the report, then he or she can bring in their own expert to rebut the report’s findings.
It is important to remember that a court is going to make a child custody determination based on what it thinks is in the child’s best interests. Therefore, parents need to be thorough and holistic in their approach to child custody disputes. A family law attorney who is experienced in these matters can help them craft the legal arguments needed to aggressively present their position and why it is best suited to the child’s best interests.