Who should pick a custody evaluator?
Technology has introduced new pitfalls for
clients seeking a custody evaluator. Many clients now search the
Internet and present their attorneys with lists of people they suppose
may be appropriate to provide custody evaluations. See additional
information here about problems with
It is my belief that an attorney
should be the primary person responsible
for selecting an evaluator.
What should you look for?
It is strongly suggested that an
evaluator be a licensed professional with a
strong background in psychology, psychiatry, or social work.
Pennsylvania does not have a law specifying
who can perform this type of service. Almost anyone can hang a shingle, advertise, and perform custody evaluations.
If your client uses an evaluator that is not licensed, you and your
client have little recourse if the evaluation becomes problematic.
What information do clients
find on the Internet?
Your clients may come to you with a list of
“experts” found on many web sites. These may be sites that
charge a fee for inclusion of the evaluator’s name, but do not
check credentials. The client can also find a list of evaluators who
have an agenda. This can include parent alienation syndrome,
father’s rights, mother’s rights, and so on. There are even
sites dedicated to skewing the evaluation. The client can pay a
fee and attempts to learn how to “fool” the expert.
Who should the evaluator work
The American Psychological Association clearly
states that an evaluator should work for the best interests of the
child. Other disciplines have their own guidelines.
A licensed psychologist should work for the
best interests of the child regardless of who pays for the evaluation
and be a neutral evaluator. This could mean that the evaluator may not
make a recommendation favoring your client. When this happens, clients
will often come to understand that the evaluator made the appropriate recommendation, helping the child and family.
How do I
check for a license?
Check for licensing verification by going to
The Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Professional and
Occupational Affairs license verification web site:
How can I prepare my client
for the evaluation?
A client who is truthful and candid makes the
best impression on evaluators.
Ask your client to cooperate.
Do not give him or her an agenda to put
forth. Remind the client that while you
work for the client’s best interests, the evaluator works for the
best interests of the children.
What should you tell your
client about an outcome?
decision about custody rests with the judge. The judge may use the
evaluation as part of the decision-making, or
may ignore the entire report.
So why have an evaluation
done at all? A good evaluator will help to
identify the needs of the child and the ability of the respective
parent to meet those needs.
Good evaluators will have
years of experience working with conflicted families and will make sure
that the children’s voices will be heard.