In many cases where a change in the child custody and visitation schedule is sought, the court would order a custody evaluation hearing. At such a hearing, the parents of the child and the child(ren) are interviewed by an independent evaluator. The parents’ new partners, certain relatives and other interested parties may be also be interviewed by the evaluator. The evaluator also looks into the case history and court file, the parents’ criminal and Department of Motor Vehicles history, Department of Children and Family Services records, and any other information that may be relevant to the case. The evaluator then presents her findings and report to the parents/parties and the court. The parents/parties then have the choice to accept the evaluator’s recommendation or contest it at a court hearing. If the parents choose to go forward with a court hearing and contest the evaluator’s findings, they will have the opportunity to question the evaluator under oath and elicit the testimony of other witnesses, in the cases where such testimony is relevant and appropriate.
It is highly recommended that each of the parents/parties provides the evaluator with as much evidence as they have regarding the proposed change in the parenting schedule, that would help support the evaluator’s findings and recommendation. During the evaluation, the parents/parties should keep the focus of their interview on the reasons why the change in the custodial orders would be in the best interest of their child and they should refrain from disparaging the opposing party to the case. However, if there are blemishes on the other parent’s record, those should be brought to the evaluator’s attention in a calm and organized manner. It is important to demonstrate that the parent requesting the change of custody orders is not trying to server the relationship between the other parent and the child, but is rather seeking the order for the benefit of the child.