Child Custody Evaluation FAQ
If you are involved in a child custody dispute in Louisiana, the court may have ordered a custody evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine what is in the best interest of your child. By meeting with you, the other parent and your child, an evaluator will gather information and make a recommendation to the judge with regard to custody and visitation. While your concerns as a parent should be considered and respected by the evaluator, your child’s best interest will be the primary consideration.
The family law attorneys of Nicaud & Sunseri Law Firm, LLC, advise and represent parents who are going through the custody evaluation process. Following are answers to some commonly asked questions.
What factors will the court consider when determining the child’s best interest?
The court may consider a wide variety of factors when making child custody determinations. Those factors include but are not limited to:
- The love and emotional connection between each parent and the child
- Each parent’s ability and disposition to provide for the child’s basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing and medical care
- Each parent’s ability and disposition to give the child affection and spiritual guidance and to provide the child with an education
- The moral fitness of each parent, insofar as moral fitness affects the child’s well-being
- The mental and physical health of each parent and the child
- How long the child has lived in a stable environment and whether it is important to maintain that same environment
- The distance between the parents’ separate residences
- The permanence of the proposed custodial home
- The preference of the child, if the court finds that the child is old enough to express a preference
- The child’s home, school and community history
- How much each parent previously exercised their responsibility of caring for and raising the child
- The willingness of each parent to facilitate the child’s continuing relationship with the other parent
Must the judge accept the evaluator’s recommendation?
The weight given to each factor in a custody evaluation is left to the trial court’s discretion, and the judge may deviate from the evaluator’s recommendation. Our child custody lawyers are familiar with the courts and judges in Orleans Parish, St. Tammany Parish and throughout southeast Louisiana. We can advise on the likelihood of a judge’s particular decision with regard to custody determinations.
What should I say to the evaluator?
It is completely natural to feel anxious about meeting with a child custody evaluator, and it is also natural to want to present yourself in a favorable light. However, you don’t want to lie to the evaluator or to say negative things about the other parent.
Instead, be truthful. You can acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses as a parent, but don’t dwell on them. If the evaluator asks about the other parent’s strengths and weaknesses, try to be fair and calm and to answer truthfully, but again don’t dwell on the subject.
You may also want to acknowledge how your child could benefit from having positive relationships with you and the other parent. You can say that you would consider a different custody arrangement, but you can also clearly explain your preference for one arrangement over another.
Most importantly, throughout your conversations with the evaluator, stay focused on your child’s well-being, and promptly follow up if the evaluator asks for additional documents or information. Also, do not violate any existing custody orders or show up late to or miss any appointments with the evaluator.
Should I tell my child what to say and do?
It is not a good idea to coach your child in an attempt to manipulate the evaluator, and it is definitely not a good idea to tell your child to say negative things about the other parent.
It is okay, though, to explain to your child that the evaluator is there to learn more about the family and to help you and the other parent work together.
Do custody evaluations always lead to sole custody for one parent?
No. Family courts in Louisiana approach custody decisions on the assumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. Years ago, it was common for courts to give the vast majority of parenting time to one parent, but that scenario is less common now, particularly if the parents live reasonably close together. Courts now assume that allowing both parents to be active in a child’s life is the best arrangement for the child, and serious factors must be present for a court to deny a parent access to his or her child.
To schedule a consultation to discuss your goals and concerns regarding custody, call 504-662-9596 or 985-218-0494, or send us an email. Our firm has offices in Metairie and St. Tammany Parish, and we welcome clients on the Southshore and the Northshore.