A Child Custody Evaluation is a tool that can be used to allow a neutral 3rd party mental health professional to investigate specific concerns of the Court, observe each parent’s interaction with the child, look into each parent’s concerns regarding the other parent’s care of and/or relationship with the child, gather additional information, and make a recommendation to the Court regarding conservatorship of a child, possession of or access to a child, or any other issue involving the child’s best interest. There is never a guarantee that the evaluator will recommend what you think should happen, but it does allow for your concerns to be looked into further and taken into consideration.
A Child Custody Evaluation can be conducted by either a private professional who has met the criteria outlined by the Texas Family Code, or by the county’s Domestic Relations Office (often called Family Court Services).
After the Child Custody Evaluation has been Ordered by the Judge, the next step is to meet with the evaluator and follow their intake and payment procedures.
The Court will appoint either a private custody evaluator to conduct the evaluation or will appoint the County’s Family Court Services program. For Tarrant County cases, visit here to view the Family Court Services website regarding custody evaluations.
Under the Texas Family Code Section 107.109, a child custody evaluation consists of:
“(1) a personal interview of each party to the suit seeking conservatorship of, possession of, or access to the child;
(2) interviews, conducted in a developmentally appropriate manner, of each child who is the subject of the suit who is at least four years of age during a period of possession of each party to the suit but outside the presence of the party;
(3) observation of each child who is the subject of the suit, regardless of the age of the child, in the presence of each party to the suit, including, as appropriate, during supervised visitation, unless contact between a party and a child is prohibited by court order or the person conducting the evaluation has good cause for not conducting the observation and states the good cause in writing provided to the parties to the suit before the completion of the evaluation;
(4) an observation and, if the child is at least four years of age, an interview of any child who is not a subject of the suit who lives on a full-time basis in a residence that is the subject of the evaluation, including with other children or parties who are subjects of the evaluation, where appropriate;
(5) the obtaining of information from relevant collateral sources, including the review of:
(A) relevant school records;
(B) relevant physical and mental health records of each party to the suit and each child who is the subject of the suit;
(C) relevant records of the department obtained under Section 107.111;
(D) criminal history information relating to each child who is the subject of the suit, each party to the suit, and each person who lives with a party to the suit; and
(E) notwithstanding other law, records or information from any other collateral source that may have relevant information;
(6) for each individual residing in a residence subject to the child custody evaluation, consideration of any criminal history information and any contact with the department or a law enforcement agency regarding abuse or neglect; and
(7) assessment of the relationship between each child who is the subject of the suit and each party seeking possession of or access to the child.”
The evaluator will typically first conduct interviews with the parties seeking conservatorship or possession of the child. After that, the evaluator typically makes his or her way down the above list to make sure that each applicable item is addressed.
The evaluation is a thorough process and often takes several months to complete.
After the custody evaluation process is complete, the evaluator will draft a written report, including the evaluator’s recommendations regarding the best interest of the child, to prepare for trial. The report will provided to the attorneys and the parties will have a chance to review the report. This allows the attorneys to prepare for trial. It also allows the parties a chance to see what the evaluator will recommend to the Court.
During the trial, the evaluator will be called as a witness to testify and share the findings from the evaluation with the Judge. Just as with other witnesses, each attorney has a chance to ask questions of the evaluator.
While the Judge is not required to follow the evaluator’s recommendation, the Judge will consider the evaluator’s recommendation for the child’s best interest, along with all of the other evidence presented at trial, when making his or her final ruling.