How to Dispute a Custody Evaluation

By Brenna Davis

In contentious child custody cases, judges may appoint third-party evaluators to investigate the facts of the case. These evaluators have a different role from expert witnesses hired by parents and judges are often heavily influenced by their custody evaluations. However, custody evaluators are not perfect; they are subject to bias, flawed research methods and a number of other methodological errors. If you wish to contest a child custody evaluation, it is insufficient to merely disagree with the evaluator. You must show why the evaluator is wrong and demonstrate why her recommendations are not in your child's best interests.

In contentious child custody cases, judges may appoint third-party evaluators to investigate the facts of the case. These evaluators have a different role from expert witnesses hired by parents and judges are often heavily influenced by their custody evaluations. However, custody evaluators are not perfect; they are subject to bias, flawed research methods and a number of other methodological errors. If you wish to contest a child custody evaluation, it is insufficient to merely disagree with the evaluator. You must show why the evaluator is wrong and demonstrate why her recommendations are not in your child's best interests.

Child's Best Interests

All states use a "best interests of the child" standard when making custody determinations. Thus, your arguments should center around the best interests of your child and demonstrate why the evaluator's recommendations don't meet this standard. Different states use different factors to determine a child's best interests, however, common factors include the attachment a child has to each parent, stability of a child's environment and the parenting competence of each parent. If, for example, a custody evaluator recommends you and your ex split time with the child, you could argue this creates an unstable, unpredictable environment or will likely increase conflict between you and your ex-spouse.

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Alternative Parenting Plan

To convincingly argue that an evaluator's custody plan is not in your child's best interests, you should propose a reasonable alternative plan. If the custody evaluator recommends joint custody, for example, a judge is unlikely to accept an alternative plan that gives your ex no time with the child unless you can demonstrate incompetence or bias on the part of the evaluator.

Bias

Child custody evaluator Jonathan W. Gould argues in his book "The Art and Science of Child Custody Evaluations" that all child custody evaluators are biased in some way. However, good evaluators take steps to correct against these biases. For example, they interview neutral third parties and witnesses to confirm what the parents tell them. If you believe the custody evaluator is biased, you must compellingly demonstrate that bias. For example, if the custody evaluator always recommends sole custody for the mother, this could evidence her biased leanings. Similarly, if the custody evaluator is a member of an organization with a political axe to grind regarding custody – such as a father's or mother's rights group – her evaluation may be biased.

Research Methods

The Daubert standard, a standard used in cases involving scientific evidence, requires that scientific research is conducted using accepted methods in the research community. For child custody evaluators, accepted standards include interviewing both parents and the child as well as observing the interactions between each parent and the child. Custody evaluators should also use scientific tests, such as measurements of attachment or drug addiction questionnaires, when appropriate. If an evaluator has failed to use these standards, bring this to the court's attention.

Qualifications

A custody evaluator must be qualified to perform the job she is hired to do. For example, a guardian ad litem – a person who is usually an attorney appointed to represent a minor child and her best interests – is not typically qualified to administer scientific tests or address issues in developmental psychology. Similarly, a psychologist whose degree came from an unaccredited school or whose license has been suspended may not be well-qualified. Point to any issues with the evaluator's qualifications to accurately judge your case.

Counter Witnesses

If you are arguing the evaluator is unqualified, her research methods are flawed or her recommendations are not in the child's best interests, an expert witness can be extremely helpful. Your expert should testify to accepted standards in the field, address any issues the evaluator's recommendations might cause for your child, and refute any misleading claims made by the evaluator.

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Tennessee Child Custody Evaluation Guidelines

References

Related articles

The Best Interest of Children in a Custody Evaluation

Understanding the needs of a child is a crucial component to making an informed custody decision. Custody matters are governed by state law; however, every state requires courts to promote the best interests of the child. When parents can work together, a judge is generally inclined to conclude that the parents' agreed upon parenting proposal serves the best interests of the child. If parents cannot agree, the court must make its own determination. In these instances, neutral custody evaluations are often used to provide judges with an opinion from a qualified professional as to what arrangement promotes the best interests of the child.

Checklist for Full Custody Hearings in Ohio

In Ohio, each parent has equal rights to the child and courts almost always give visitation to the non-custodial parent. Sole custody is an arrangement in which one parent has sole decision-making authority and is the parent with whom the child lives. Some parents seek sole custody with no, or very limited, visitation with the other parent, often referred to as full custody. If you are seeking full custody of your child, you will need to prove the other parent is an unfit caregiver for your child and must go to your hearing fully prepared. Because Ohio law errs on the side of providing visitation to non-custodial parents, it is wise to hire a family law attorney to represent you if you seek full custody.

How to Fight for Child Custody in Wisconsin

While most states use the "best interests of the child" standard in making custody determinations, Wisconsin has an additional requirement governing custody decisions. Judges in the state are required to assume that joint legal custody, which grants equal decision-making power to each parent, is in the best interests of the child until proven otherwise. Thus, parents in Wisconsin are less likely to find themselves fighting for visitation because visitation is always part of joint legal custody. However, physical custody – whom the child lives with – is still governed solely by the best interests standard. Parents seeking custody of their children must prove that the arrangement they desire is in their children's best interests.

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