Searching the Web for a Custody Evaluator

There are many web sites that deal with custody evaluations. Some contain on- line attacks against an evaluator; others are postings by self-described professionals who are anything but professional. Some purport to be for “father’s rights” or “mother’s rights.” Some evaluators that you find on the web are not even licensed.

Caveat emptor!  Like anything else on the Internet, looks can be deceiving. It's important to have a healthy dose of skepticism when reviewing custody evaluation websites and to verify an evaluator's credentials.

  • Only pick an evaluator that has a valid license in the state where you are having the evaluation performed. Most states have a web site where you can check for ethical, malpractice, any professional misconduct or sanctions against an individual. The web site for Pennsylvania is www.licensepa.state.pa.us

  • The job of the custody evaluator is to help the Court understand the needs of the children and the abilities of the parents to meet those needs. It is important to find an evaluator that does not have an agenda regarding mothers vs. fathers, but is focused solely on the needs of your children.

Rants on the Web

Often, when a custody evaluation is completed, one--or sometimes both parents-- are unhappy with the results, because the recommendation was not what they had hoped for. In this Internet age, it is easy to vent anger on the web and “trash” the evaluator, and even the judge in the custody case. Evaluators are limited in rebutting false accusations on the web because of privacy laws. Be cautious if you find critical posts on the web, especially if they are posted by anonymous people. They are often just highly distorted presentations or out-and-out lies. If you have any questions about postings that you see about an evaluator, ask the evaluator about it. Many highly qualified and ethical people have had outrageous postings by disgruntled clients unhappy with the recommendations made.

Who makes the decision about custody?

An evaluator makes recommendations to the Court. Once a report is completed, it is sent to the attorneys. You and your attorney can then use that report to try to work out an agreement with the other parent. If you cannot reach an agreement, then you put the decision in the hands of the Court. It is the Court that then makes the final determination about custody. In a trial, the custody evaluation is just one piece of evidence that will be presented along with other information presented by the attorneys. If you intend to have a custody evaluation performed, understand that the evaluation is only one tool a Judge will use to help make a decision regarding your family.

What is the purpose of having a custody evaluator do an evaluation?

A custody evaluator looks for information about the conditions that will best serve the child. Often parents are so angry at each other that they do not think clearly about how the child would feel, or what the benefit would be to the child if the other parent is excluded from that child’s life. The flaws you see in the other parent may or may not be seen as flaws to an experienced mental health practitioner. The evaluator uses his/her education, experience and training to weigh the benefits of each parent in the life of the child. A parent who hates the other parent often cannot see past their need for revenge. Your issues often do not have any bearing on what is in the best interest of the child. Judges take the recommendations of the evaluator and consider them along with each parent’s testimony and all of the other evidence presented.

Who is the report written for?

Custody reports are not written for the client. Some lawyers release the report directly to each client. However, the report contains technical and sometimes confusing information that often cannot be interpreted properly by a client. Testing results are often confusing to clients and some of the clinical words and phrases used differ in meaning from the way a lay person would interpret them. The conclusions and recommendations in the report are based on the totality of the information contained in the report. The reports are basically a vehicle to help the judge have more complete data to help them decide about the best interests of your children.

Who should perform custody evaluations?

  • I recommend that you and your attorney use an evaluator who is licensed in the State where the custody question is being decided. If the evaluator is not licensed, you may not have any avenue to file a complaint if the evaluator violates professional standards. I am an expert witness for The Prosecuting Attorneys’ Office of The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am often asked to examine cases to see if any violations of ethics and professional standards have taken place when a complaint is filed. If the evaluator is unlicensed you have no recourse with the State.

  • Your attorney should know the work and reputation of local evaluators. If they do not, they can ask for recommendations from trusted colleagues.

  • Evaluators have good credentials regarding education, training and forensic experience, and not have an agenda that will slant the evaluation in a predetermined direction.

  • Warning: There are many people promoting themselves on the Internet that do not hold licenses, have on-line degrees, have degrees that are not in mental health, have agendas, and are willing to testify to anything for a fee. Anyone can hang a shingle that says they are an expert. You can check with the Licensing Board of your State for licensing and any ethical misconduct from a licensed professional.

I am a founding member of the Custody Tack Force of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, and of the Parenting Coordination Task Force. These groups work to promote professional standards for these evaluations. I have performed evaluations for over 30 years.


© 2006 All rights reserved. |  Last revised by R. Cohen on January 21, 2006