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How Can a Parent in Arizona Obtain a Child Custody Evaluation, and What Does It Entail?

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What Is a Child Custody Evaluation and How Do You Get One?

If you are going through a divorce and have children from the marriage, you are likely discussing child custody and child support. While many family law issues can become heated and emotional, the passion driving discussions about the best interests of the children when parents divorce can be especially powerful. While this passion often stems from each parent wanting to protect and care for their children, it can create challenges in coming to an agreement regarding custody arrangements.

What Is a Child Custody Evaluation?

In cases where parents can’t agree about child custody matters or one or more of the parents believes that some outside help from a third-party may be useful, a child custody evaluation may be ordered. This evaluation is conducted by an outside party who is not biased toward either side in the matter and is usually someone who is knowledgeable and experienced regarding child psychology and development as well as family dynamics. Typically, this is a mental health professional.

The person evaluating the situation will conduct a series of interviews with the parents and children. They may also speak to other family members and observe interactions between the parents and the kids over a period of time to help them make informed recommendations about custody arrangements.

Signs You Might Need a Child Custody Evaluation

If you are unable to work with the other parent on planning for parenting time, you can ask for a custody evaluation. The court will also order an evaluation of its own accord if the judge perceives that either or both parents are not properly planning for custody in keeping with the best interests of the child or children.

Some common factors that lead to courts ordering these evaluations without parental request can include accusations of parental misconduct, the presence of domestic violence, a child with special needs, or the potential presence of substance abuse or mental illness in either parent’s home.

How to Request a Child Custody Evaluation in Arizona

There are a few paths for requesting a child custody evaluation. If you are striving for a collaborative divorce process and have agreed with the other parent that you simply aren’t able to come to a working custody agreement together, you might also agree to hire a third party to help with this situation. In this case, you might hire a professional to conduct an evaluation and present you with some options for a parenting time plan—in this case, the recommendations would not be binding and would be treated as a foundation you could work with.

If you want a more formal process, especially if you are worried about the interests of your child or find that child custody is an especially contentious topic within your divorce, you may want to request an evaluation through the court. Either parent can request this, though the judge ultimately decides whether or not to order it. Consider talking to your family law attorney about your options and how to present your request for a child custody evaluation.

Understanding the Evaluation Process

Before going into this process, it’s important to understand how long it can take. The length of the process depends in part on the reasons for the evaluation and the dynamics and needs of the family. In some cases, the evaluator may be able to draw conclusions after a few meetings; in others, the evaluation may take three to five months in total.

Selecting an Evaluator

First, you have to select an evaluator. The court may work with the parents to choose someone they both agree on or may require that they use a court-approved evaluator. You should also consider the cost of this service, as you will likely have to pay for the evaluation.

Interviews and Meetings

Once the process begins, the evaluator will schedule a number of interviews and meetings. They may want to speak with each child and parent involved more than once, and they may also interview other friends and family who are regularly involved with your kids.

Home Visits

The evaluator will usually schedule home visits. During this time, they review each parent’s home to determine if it is safe and appropriate for children. They may also observe the kids within the environment.

A Final Report

Once the evaluation process is completed, the professional submits a final report to the court. This report includes the findings of the evaluation and recommendations for custody arrangements. While the recommendations of the evaluator aren’t necessarily set in stone, they are usually very influential in any court decisions should the custody matter go to trial.

The Role of an Attorney During the Custody Evaluation Process

A family law attorney can provide support and guidance throughout your custody battle, including the evaluation process. You can talk to your attorney if you think an evaluation may be necessary, and they can help you request one through the court. Because your parenting abilities are reviewed during the evaluation process, it’s important to go into the process seriously and well-prepared. An attorney with experience in these matters can provide some guidance on what to expect so you are able to put your best foot forward.

For help with child custody matters, contact The Turner Law Firm, PLLC, at 623-253-8718.

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