What is a Custody Evaluation?

A Custody Evaluation (often referred to as Bilateral Custody or Parenting Evaluation) is an evaluation that is completed by a licensed psychologist. Depending on the issues that are present in the case, the evaluations can vary from investigating mental health, domestic violence, sexual/risk assessments, substance abuse, or just what the most appropriate parenting schedule should be.

These evaluations are oftentimes sought when there is high conflict or there are questions of mental health issues involving either party or the child. The purpose of these evaluations in these matters is to investigate the necessary issues to determine the best resolutions or steps moving forward for all parties involved based on the “best interest of the child” standard. Sometimes one parent’s wishes conflict with what is in the best interest of the child. It is important to remember that the evaluator will make recommendations based on all the information received, not based on what either parents or the child want.

How do I request a Custody Evaluation in my Washington family law case?

First, your case will need to be “open” with either a Petition for Divorce, Legal Separation, Parenting Plan, or Modification of Parenting Plan. Once you have an “open” case, then there are a few ways to request a Custody Evaluation be ordered in your case.

  • You can file a customized Motion for Order (FL All Family 181) and file a Notice of Hearing (FL All Family 185).
  • You can file a Motion for Temporary Family Law Order (FL Divorce 223, FL Parentage 323, or FL Modify 623) and file a Notice of Hearing (FL All Family 185).

Either way you request a Custody Evaluation, the issue will have to go in front of the Judicial Official assigned to your case, unless the other party agrees to undergo a Custody Evaluation. If the other party agrees, then both parties will sign an Order Appointing Parenting Evaluator/Investigator (FL All Family 148). In any of these situations, it is your responsibility to research the available Evaluators in the area and provide the court with their rates and availability.

What does a Custody Evaluation look like?

Step 1: The first step in the investigation is getting the Evaluator up to speed on the case. The Evaluator will typically send both parties an “intake” form requesting information and details. That form will ask questions about the history of the parties and the children, including mental health information, medical information, criminal histories, and personal references. These intake forms can be very lengthy and will likely ask for detailed, personal information. The Evaluator will have access to all the documents that have been filed with the court to date. You will want to ask the Evaluator if they would like to receive any documents filed with the court thereafter their appointment in the case.

Step 2: The next step is for the Evaluator to conduct interviews with the parents, the child(ren), important providers (i.e., therapists, doctors, teachers), and other parties who may have vital information applicable to the case. This step can include the parties (or the child/ren) undergoing psychological tests and observations in different environments.

Step 3: Once the Evaluator compiles all the information they have received, they will issue a written report. The report will summarize the information received and from whom it was received. The report will also include recommendations for a parenting schedule or any other recommendations that would be in the best interest of the children, which is based on the Evaluator’s professional knowledge and statutory standards.

Step 4: Once the report is issued, it is common to have a court hearing where the Commissioner or Judge will review the report and order any necessary changes based on the information presented.

What are the responsibilities of a Custody Evaluator in Washington?

During the investigation, the Evaluator is required to be a neutral third party and must show fairness in dealings with all parties while upholding the ethical principles they are bound to.

The Custody Evaluator must:

  • 1. Not discriminate based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis prohibited by law.
  • 2. Be familiar with or obtain consultation regarding the psychological aspects of child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and family conflict.
  • 3. Not have provided therapeutic services to any party involved in the evaluation.
  • 4. Interpret test(s) consistent with current research or standards of practice if any are performed.
  • 5. Avoid multiple relationships when conducting parenting evaluations.
  • 6. Maintain a written record of the evaluation.
  • 7. Follow the code of ethics for psychologists.

Psychologists are bound by their own code of ethics, as well as the Washington Administrative Code, and the applicable domestic relations laws under the Revised Code of Washington.

When should I request a Custody Evaluation?

Commonly, a Custody Evaluation is requested when there is high conflict, extreme allegations, or serious questions of mental health issues.

Requesting a Custody Evaluation may be a good idea in some of, but not limited to, the following situations:

  • The other parent shows signs of mental illness or other issues that have detrimentally affected the child’s wellbeing.
  • The other parent has untreated and has discontinued seeking treatment for their mental health diagnoses.
  • The other parent is lying and hiding information related to the child.
  • The other parent is attempting to alienate you from the child.
  • The other parent is neglectful or emotionally abusive toward the child, but there is not sufficient evidence to show to the court.
  • The child expresses concerning things to you that the other parent does, but you have little to no evidence other than the child’s report.
  • The child has had a recent and extreme change in behavior, but the parents do not communicate well enough to figure out the root cause.

How much does a Custody Evaluation cost?

An important note is that Custody Evaluations are expensive and time-consuming. Evaluators charge a retainer fee to begin work on a case and bill by the hour. Thus, it is imperative to do your own research regarding availability, fees, and experience. The retainers typically range from $8,000 – $10,000 to start. The average timeline for an evaluation to be completed is anywhere between 6 to 12 months.

Hire an experienced child custody attorney in Vancouver, Washington!

If you want to request a Custody Evaluation in your child custody case but need help with the process, please get in touch with an experienced Vancouver, Washington family law attorney at Navigate Law Group so we can help guide you.

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.