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Dr. Carroll, Clinical Director of The Clinic @ The Montgomery, is a Nationally Certified Custody Evaluator.

What is a Nationally Certified Custody Evaluator (NCCE)?

A custody evaluator is a mental health professional who makes a written recommendation to the Court as to what custody and/or visitation arrangement would be in the best interests of the children involved.

What is a Custody Evaluation?

Custody evaluation (also known as "parenting evaluation") is a legal process, in which a court-appointed mental health expert, usually a licensed therapist, evaluates a family and makes a recommendation to the court for a custody, visitation, or parenting plan. When performing the custody evaluation, the evaluator is expected exclusively to act in the child's best interests.

Custody evaluations are most often utilized in highly contested custody disputes. In the course of their investigation, a custody evaluator will interview both parents, observe the children with each of the parents, conduct age-appropriate interviews with the children, and interview other significant people such as teachers, daycare providers, healthcare providers, extended family members, and friends. It is not unusual for the professional to administer some standard psychological tests, though this is not a method consistently utilized, as each situation requires a tailor-made approach. It may also be helpful to the evaluator to visit the child’s home or to visit the place where the child may live or may spend time during visitation.

In the interest of objectivity, the professional selected to conduct the custody evaluation should not be a person who has previously treated any member of the family. It is also recommended that each party pay one-half the costs of the custody evaluation, to avoid the appearance that the professional may be biased towards the parent who paid the fee.

A well drafted report will contain a summary of the information collected, an assessment of the family and the needs of the children and will also recommend a custody/visitation arrangement. The custody evaluator’s recommendation is just one factor that the Court will take into consideration when deciding what custody/visitation arrangement is in the children’s long range best interests.


Key Concepts

If the custody issue is not settled in the pre-trial procedures, and the parents have serious concerns about each other's ability to parent the children involved, a child custody evaluation may be appointed by the court, especially for the high-conflict cases. Many states now have laws in their statues that regulate the custody evaluator appointment and procedures.

The Court can order either a full or a focused evaluation. Psychological testing is also sometimes ordered. A "full evaluation, investigation, or assessment" is a comprehensive examination of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child. A full evaluation typically requires about 15–20 hours of the evaluator's time. A "focused" evaluation " is an examination of the best interest of the child that is limited by court order in either time or scope. The partial or focused evaluation requires about 12–18 hours of investigation, interviews and report preparation. Evaluation cost is established by The Clinic @ The Montgomery, but the parents will most likely split the charges according to their court order.

Comparison with Regular Court Procedures

There are significant differences between custody evaluation and a regular court procedure, such as:

  • Custody evaluation held by mental health expert, not a judge. The evaluation usually takes place at his/her office, not at a courthouse.

  • The evaluation may include testimonies, psychological tests, child–parent observations, additional evaluations by other professionals, etc. The parties may be requested to provide some documents to the Evaluator.

  • Since the custody evaluators hearings are not held in court, many rules of civil procedure and due process do not apply.

  • Parents are not required to be sworn before the evaluation testimonies, unlike in court.

  • Law does not explicitly guarantee a right for either party to hear another party's evaluation testimonies, so in some cases the opposite party cannot object during the evaluation testimony, even in cases when the objections would be permitted in Court testimonies.

  • The custody evaluator is not obligated to record a full transcript of testimonies or provide the transcript to the other party.

  • The evaluator is not obligated to provide either party with a copy of supporting documents submitted by other side during the evaluation process.

  • The evaluator is not required to provide in the final recommendations a complete list of facts or legal factors on which the decision is based. Evaluators are allowed to base some conclusions on feelings, general impressions and assumptions.

  • The evaluator can decide if lawyers are permitted during the testimony of the parents. The absence of the attorneys may bring the evaluation cost down, but it also can result in legal underrepresentation of either party in the proceeding.

  • Court objection rules do not apply to custody evaluations, such as rules allowing parties to object to form of the questions, irrelevant questions, calls for opinions, misleading questions, prejudicial evidences, badgering, compound questions, leading questions, hearsay evidences, illegal evidences, etc.

  • Attorneys are allowed to talk with the evaluator about the case in ex parte communications (i.e. out-of-court), which is forbidden for judge and jury communications with attorneys in a court proceeding.

  • It may be hard to appeal evaluator's final conclusions because recommendations can be based on general impressions, and evaluators are not required to record full transcripts or provide copies of evidences on which they have based recommendations.

  • Cost of the custody evaluation may be lower than cost of the regular court proceeding, especially if both parties agreed on the evaluator's recommendations and settle the dispute without of objecting the evaluation final report in court.

  • Custody evaluators are protected by quasi judicial immunity from lawsuits which is similar to judicial immunity.

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