Divorce is a very stressful situation for parents and children. Most of the time, parents are able to reach an agreement about financial matters and parenting time. However, if this is not possible, your attorneys may recommend that a mental health professional be chosen to conduct an impartial Custody Evaluation. Generally, a consent order or court order will be signed by a judge appointing a specific professional to conduct this evaluation and specifying how the financial aspects of the evaluation will be handled.
The psychologist will typically be meeting with everyone in the family but will consider the children as the primary clients. The psychologist's goal is to make recommendations which are in the children's best interests. Typically, the psychologist will interview each parent several times, administer psychological tests which assess personality and parenting, observe parents interacting with their children in the playroom, interview children, and conduct telephone interviews with individuals who have relevant information about parenting or child issues. This often includes therapists, teachers, and other professionals involved with the family and sometimes neighbors or extended family members. The psychologist prepares a report which summarizes the findings and recommendations and submits the report to the judge. Usually, both attorneys also review the report. Sometimes an attorney functioning as a Guardian ad Litem, (GAL) has also been appointed to represent the best interests of the child. Usually the GAL and psychologist communicate with each other to coordinate efforts.
Because this evaluation is being done at the request of the court, the information is NOT confidential between the parents, attorneys, and judges. Often the psychologist's report helps the parents and attorneys reach an agreement about parenting time issues and parental decisionmaking about the children. If not, either party could request that the psychologist appear at a trial and would be resposible for paying for the psychologists profesional time for a court appearance.
Occasionally, a psychologist may be requested to evaluate only one of the parents. This is called a Parental Fitness Evaluation. The psychologist will evaluate a parent's mental health and parenting skills and possibly the parent-child relationships. The psychologist can provide conclusions about whether the parent is suitable to spend time with the children. However, the psychologist cannot recommend a specific parenting time schedule (such as which parent should have primary physical custody) because he or she has not made an evaluation of each parent's strengths and weaknesses compared to each other.