The Ugly Truth About Child Custody Evaluations

Family in court with gavel

Many parents fighting for custody of their kids underestimate the intricacies of child custody evaluations. Not only are they time-consuming and costly, there is a human component involved—the evaluator—which means custody evaluations are anything but routine. If you’re facing a child custody evaluation and are wondering what to expect during the process, or when necessary, how to pass a psychological evaluation for child custody, it’s essential to understand the process and find a divorce attorney who knows how to manage it.

What is a custody evaluation?

A child custody evaluation may be required for parents looking to adopt a child or those who disagree about how custody of their child should be handled. In some cases, parents (either one or both) may ask to bring in a child custody evaluator, while the court may order that an evaluator be brought in to analyze what parenting arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.

When clients ask us what is a custody evaluation, we also find they want to know why they need to get one. They also ask, “what is a custody evaluation going to be used for during my case.” In many of these cases, there is a concern about a parent (or parents) being unfit, whether it be due to substance abuse issues, mental health problems or alleged family violence, among other issues. A custody evaluation can help or hinder a custody case.

What child custody evaluation guidelines and steps does a custody evaluator follow? During a child custody evaluation, the evaluator will interview the individuals—such as parents, step-parents, other family members, babysitters, teachers and others—who interact with the child. They will also consider the parents’ ability to care for the child (emotionally and financially), as well as the social and physical environment the child is exposed to while in each parent’s care.

The child custody evaluation findings must either be submitted as evidence to the court by one or both parents or submitted directly to the judge for review if ordered by the court. Parents may be able to dispute the findings by calling upon other experts to do so on their behalf. The judge will then take the report and other pertinent evidence into account before deciding on a child custody arrangement they believe is in the best of the child.

Now, on to the ugly side of child custody evaluations

The bottom line—and something that parents really need to understand—is that most child custody evaluations move very, very slowly, which can be problematic. Since these evaluations drag out, information collected by the evaluator often ends up being out of date by the time you get to trial. Additionally, private custody evaluations are expensive, costing thousands of dollars.

And here’s the ugliest part: While there are some wonderful child custody evaluators who serve families in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, there are also some really bad evaluators out there. It’s like any other profession, except that children’s futures are on the line.

One of the biggest issues we’ve found with some evaluators is inadequate follow-up and communication. You can see how that can become a problem when an evaluation drags on for months.

What child custody evaluator training is required in Texas?

While we have found some child custody evaluators to be more adept at their jobs than others, the state of Texas does have specific requirements regarding child custody evaluator training, education and experience. You can’t just go in and apply to be a child custody evaluator without meeting certain qualifications.

As described in the Texas Family Code Chapter 107.104, some key child custody evaluator qualifications include (see Chapter 107.106 for exceptions):

  • Must have “full-time experience” working 30 hours or more per week.
  • Must have at least a master’s degree from an accredited college in a human services field of study.
  • Must have a license to practice in the state of Texas as a social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist or psychologist, or have a license to practice medicine in the state and a board certification in psychiatry and:
    • Have at least 2 years full-time or equivalent part-time experience practicing in the field and performing evaluations under professional supervision; and
    • After licensure, performed at least 10 court-order child custody evaluations under the supervision of a qualified individual.
  • Must complete required professional development coursework and practice experience directly related to performing child custody evaluations or be found to be capable based on other experience the licensing agency deems acceptable.
  • Complete at least 8 hours of family violence dynamics training.
  • And more.

How much does a child custody evaluation cost?

Child custody evaluation cost runs anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars and varies depending on certain factors. Some evaluators charge a flat fee, while others charge an hourly rate. Some custody evaluators may also charge additional for travel expenses.

If you’re wondering what is a child custody evaluation going to cost you in your situation, you can expect to pay less for a child custody evaluation in an adoption case. Custody evaluators generally charge slightly more for independent adoptions than step-parent adoptions, with fees running around $500-$1,200 or more. You can expect to pay additional fees if child custody evaluation psychological tests are required. Depending on where you reside, psychological evaluations may be ordered separately from child custody evaluations, which is the case in Tarrant County.

Child custody evaluation fees tend to run closer to $2,000 and up in cases where two parents are disputing custody. The more complex and contentious the case, the more the custody evaluator will charge because they will need extra time to interview more witnesses and do research. Extremely complex cases can end up costing parents (who usually split the fee) upwards of $10,000-15,000.

Of course, you can also expect to pay more for a child custody evaluator who is well respected in your area, which means they will also be high in demand. Paying more for a good custody evaluator could be well worth the money because the services they perform could mean the difference between you getting the custody arrangement you desire or not.

How to pass a psychological evaluation for child custody

Many parents want to know how to pass a psychological evaluation for child custody. In reality, parents don’t actually “pass or fail” a court-ordered psychological evaluation of child custody. The intent of a child custody psychological evaluation is to determine which parent would be more fit to be the custodial parent or whether or not a parent should be awarded more time with his or her child. Instead of focusing on “passing,” parents should focus on what is in the best interest of their child, take the process seriously and show consistency throughout the evaluation because it’s so important for their child’s future.     

Along with being honest and respectful of the process, it’s important to put your best foot forward in regard to your appearance, the cleanliness of your home, punctuality and how prepared you are for the evaluation (like filling out required documents in advance).

You should also keep in mind that everything you say will be scrutinized. Keep your focus on your child and what is best for them. Stick to the facts and don’t provide more information than is asked of you. And as much as you want to say disparaging things about the other parent, don’t do it. That will only make you look petty and unfavorable in the evaluator’s eyes.

As we discuss in the section below, it’s also critical to hire child custody lawyers who are knowledgeable about child custody evaluations and/or what happens during the court-ordered psychiatric evaluation child custody process if the judge ordered an evaluation in your case. A good attorney will also help you prepare for the custody evaluation and advise you on what is best to say and not to say.

It’s important to know that in Texas psychiatric testing will only occur in a child custody evaluation if it is specifically ordered. In many cases, psychological tests are ordered for other reasons that don’t involve custody evaluations.

How to ensure your child custody evaluation goes as smoothly as possible

Try to avoid needing one in the first place! Custody evaluations involve an intense investigation that can be very invasive and time-consuming. Tarrant County courts believe they should only be ordered in “cases with severe or complex issues and as a last resort.”

If you and the other parent can peacefully co-parent and agree to custody and visitation arrangements, a custody evaluation won’t be necessary. Need help improving your co-parenting skills? A parenting coordinator or family therapist can be a great resource. Ask your attorney for recommendations.

Find a family law firm with plenty of resources to support you. If you can’t avoid a child custody evaluation, you need a law firm that will be super proactive about follow-up. It’s the attorney’s job to drive that process. Unfortunately, some attorneys either don’t have the time or won’t make the time for proper follow-up or to coordinate schedules with the child custody evaluator.

At the Sisemore Law Firm, we have an experienced and robust staff that prides itself on staying on top of things and minding the details. As we like to say around here, “Our team is on them like a tick on a dog.” We make sure the evaluators have what they need in a prompt and precise manner, know who their contact person is and stay on them until we all get what we need.

That attention to detail and proactive follow-up makes a big difference. It allows us to maintain up-to-date information, so when we get closer to a hearing or trial, the evaluator isn’t scrambling to remember something from back in March that we need in August.

Hire an attorney experienced in navigating child custody evaluations. An attorney who knows the ropes understands what information the evaluator needs to clearly understand your situation and how to relay things the evaluator may have trouble figuring out on his or her own.

An experienced attorney will also give YOU clear direction on how and when to communicate with the child custody evaluator. In some unfortunate cases, custody evaluators don’t do their due diligence and base their opinions on limited insight. Sometimes they reach out to parents simply to fish for information that supports that opinion. They’re not interested in the whole story. We educate our clients on how to handle those situations. Remember, if you have any questions along the way or simply want to see a sample child custody evaluation report, don’t be afraid to ask.

Need an experienced child custody attorney in Dallas / Fort Worth?

The fort worth family lawyers at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help. During a thorough case review, our founder Justin Sisemore will take a deep dive into your case and share his recommendations on how to proceed.

To schedule your confidential consultation, give us a call at (817) 336-4444 or visit our contact page to connect with us online.

Photo Source: Canva.com

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