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In any matter involving questions related to access and possession of children, the court can order that a child custody evaluation be conducted. This can be done in a divorce involving children or any child custody case where the parties cannot reach an agreement on the possession schedule or access to the children.
Previously called a “social study,” the child custody evaluation attempts to gather information, opinions, recommendations, and answer any specific question the court may have as to rights to the child, or possession and access to the child.
The evaluation is done a person who is either has a master’s degree in a human services field of study and is licensed to practice as a social worker, professional counselor, family therapist, or psychologist. Some counties such as Dallas County have a domestic relations office with individuals who can conduct the evaluation.
The evaluator should include the following items in a child custody evaluation:
1. Personal interviews with the parties,
2. Appropriate interviews with the child(ren),
3. School records,
4. Physical and mental health records,
5. Criminal history information,
6. Evaluation of the home environment of each party,
7. Observations of the child with each party, and
8. Any other relevant information.
Once all of the information is gathered and reviewed, the evaluator will prepare a report which will include any conclusions and recommendations by the evaluator. The Court can then consider the evaluation when deciding the issues related to the children.
Child custody evaluations can be a very helpful source of information for the court. The evaluation can provide information to the court that otherwise might not come across in the formal courtroom setting. The evaluator’s ability to observe the children interact with the parents or personally visits a parent’s home is something the judge would not be able to do in most situations.
If your case involves a child custody evaluation you should discuss with your attorney the process and what to expect. You should be prepared to provide any necessary documentation for the evaluator such as school or medical records.
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