16 Sep CUSTODY EVALUATIONS IN FAMILY LAW
Many clients have never heard of a 604.10(b) evaluation until it is presented in their custody case. Our associate Evelyn breaks down some of the most frequently asked questions about this type of evaluation as a tool used in determining the best interests of children in litigated custody cases.
What is a 604.10(b) evaluation?
The purpose of the 604.10(b) evaluation, formally known as a child custody evaluation, is to assist the court in determining what is in the child’s best interest regarding parenting time and/or parental decision making. The court appoints a mental health professional to perform an investigation and make recommendations about what they believe is in the child’s best interest.
What happens during the investigation?
A typical 604.10 (b) evaluation will involve parental interviews, interviews with the child, observations of the child with both parents and contacts third parties such as teachers, pediatricians, therapists, etc. The evaluator may also choose to perform psychological testing on both or either of the parents and/or the child.
If the evaluator chooses to perform psychological testing on any of the parties, there are a variety of personality tests that are typically performed. These tests consist of either true/false questions or require the patient to describe what they see in a series of images. The goal of all the tests is to make determinations regarding the patient’s personality, which is then analyzed in the context of custody.
How are the evaluator’s conclusions reported?
At the conclusion of the investigation, the evaluator must submit a written report to the court, counsels and the parties in the proceeding. The 604.10(b) evaluator report must be submitted at least 60 days before the hearing on the allocation of parental responsibilities will commence. The report may be admitted into evidence without testimony, unless a party objects. At trial, the evaluator shall testify as the court’s witness and be subject to cross examination by the parties. Information that must be included in the evaluator’s report is a description of the procedures employed during the evaluation, a report of the data collected, all test results, any conclusions of the profession relating to the allocation of parental responsibilities and an explanation of any limitations in the evaluation or any reservations of the professional regarding their recommendations.
What if the evaluator’s conclusions are not in my favor?
While it is typical for a court to follow the evaluator’s recommendations, the court is not bound by the recommendation or opinion. The court has the final say on what is in the child’s best interest. Additionally, you have the right to dispute the evaluator’s findings through cross-
examination and through the retention of your own controlled expert to conduct the same assessment, who you then call to testify at trial.