Custody Evaluation in MN

Custody Evaluation
Custody Evaluations are a thorough review of parents

What is a Custody Evaluation?

A custody evaluation is an investigation to determine what’s in the best interests of the children.  It can occur during a custody or divorce case.  At the end, an evaluator makes recommendations for child custody and parenting time.  The judge often finds them persuasive.

When does a Custody Evaluation happen?

If parents aren’t able to agree on the custody of the children, a judge can order a custody evaluation.  This typically occurs in the middle of a child custody or divorce case.  However, it occurs after parents have attempted mediation or the like.  It precedes a trial.

How long does a Custody Evaluation Take?

They typically take from three months to a year.  The process is variable to accommodate the needs of the children and the amount of information to be collected.

Who completes the Custody Evaluation?

A custody evaluator conducts the evaluation.  It’s usually just one person.  The evaluator may have legal or mental health backgrounds.  Some have both. 

Who’s a Custody Evaluator?

The custody evaluator is a third party.   One or both of parents retain him or her. Courts encourage parents to agree on an evaluator. However, if they can’t, the judge may assign one. After an evaluator is selected, he or she typically meets the parents and their attorneys.

What does a Custody Evaluator do?

The custody evaluator:

  1. Investigates each parent’s ability to raise and care for the children.
  2. Determines what custody and parenting time arrangement is in the best interests of the children.
  3. Shares his or her opinion in a written report.
  4. Potentially testifies in court as to his or her findings.

How much does a Custody Evaluation cost in Minnesota?

The custody evaluator almost always collects an advance retainer. This typically ranges from $2,500 to $5,000.

The custody evaluator may bill at an hourly rate, with fees similar to an attorney’s.  Some, on the other hand, charge a flat, one-time fee.

Custody evaluations are more expensive than mediation and early neutral evaluations.  They usually occur after a mediation or early neutral evaluation has failed to reach an agreement.

Total costs for a custody evaluation range from $5,000 to over $15,000, depending on the case and the evaluator’s fees.

Who pays for the Custody Evaluation?

Most typically, parents split the costs of an evaluation 50/50. However, the court can consider each parent’s ability to pay.

For example, the court may not order a parent to pay costs of the custody evaluation if he or she has low income.  A judge determines this on a case by case basis.  As a rule of thumb, judges typically expect payment from parents who have lawyers.

Sometimes, custody evaluation costs coupled with other legal costs motivate parents to agree on a custody and parenting time schedule instead of using an evaluator.

What happens during a Custody Evaluation?

After parent(s) retain the evaluator, he or she collects different types of information.

For example, he or she will interview parents, the children, other family members, friends, medical doctors, school teachers or anyone else who may provide relevant information.

He or she may also observe the children interact with each parent and other individuals.  An evaluator can also request other professionals interview the children.

The evaluator may review documentation.  This includes communications between parents, legal documents, physical and mental health records, school records, criminal records, and any other documentation he or she deems important.

Once the evaluator collects all of this information, he or she will often provide a short oral report for parents and their attorneys. In this case, if  parents can settle based on this information, the evaluator’s job is done.

What’s in the Custody Evaluator’s Report?

If the custody evaluation doesn’t resolve the parents’ custody and parenting time issues, the evaluator prepares a written report. The evaluator submits it to both parents and ultimately the court.

This report includes the custody evaluator’s review of the best-interests factors. Also, it includes recommendations for a custody and parenting time.

How is a Custody Evaluation used in Court?

Often, judges call upon a custody evaluator when making a decision in a custody matter. Judges often hold the custody evaluator’s opinion in high regard.  The judges may give this deference because of their experience, their exhaustive efforts, and their perceived neutrality in the situation. Often, the recommendations are decisive in a disputed custody matter.

Lastly, if the case goes on to trial, the custody evaluator will often be called upon to testify about his or her findings. This is the last task of the custody evaluator in a divorce or child custody case.

If you have more questions, please review the links to the left, head back to the MN Family Law Attorney home, or visit Majeski Law.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney, please feel free to email or call using the links in the upper right.