What is a Custody Evaluation?
An investigation to determine what’s in the best interests of the children in order to make a recommendation for child custody and parenting time.
When does a Custody Evaluation occur?
If parties aren’t able to agree on the custody of the children, or if one of the parties requests a custody evaluation, a judge in Minnesota can order that an investigation take place to determine what’s in the best interests of the children. Therefore, a custody evaluation can be part of a child custody or divorce case.
How long does a Custody Evaluation Take?
A well-conducted custody evaluation typically takes several months to complete.
Who completes the Custody Evaluation?
The custody evaluation is conducted by a custody evaluator.
What’s a Custody Evaluator?
The custody evaluator is a third party that is neutral in the situation. The parties typically get to decide who they’d like to hire as their custody evaluator. However, if the parties can’t agree, the judge may assign a custody evaluator to the case. After the custody evaluator is selected, s/he typically introduces him/herself to the parties and their attorneys.
What does a Custody Evaluator do?
The custody evaluator has the job of:
- Investigating each party’s ability to raise and care for the children.
- Determining what custody arrangement would be in the best interests of the children.
- Sharing his/her opinion in a written report (and potentially, testifying in court).
How much does a Custody Evaluation cost in Minnesota?
The custody evaluator almost always collects an advance retainer for his/her services. The custody evaluator typically requires an initial retainer of $2,500 – $5,000.
The custody evaluator may bill at an hourly rate, with fees similar to an attorney’s hourly rate or charge a flat, one-time fee for service.
Typically custody evaluations in Minnesota are more expensive than mediation and early neutral evaluation.
Total costs for a custody evaluation range from $3,000 at the low end to over $10,000 depending on the case and the custody evaluator. For example, custody evaluators from the department of court services typically charge less than private custody evaluators.
Who pays for the Custody Evaluation?
Most typically, the parties split the costs of the custody evaluation 50/50. However, the court has to take into consideration the parties ability to pay.
For example, the court may not order a party to pay the full costs of the custody evaluation if the party is receiving public assistance or if his/her annual income is below the poverty line.
Sometimes the cost of the custody evaluation, coupled with other legal costs, motivates the parties to agree on a custody and parenting time schedule between themselves.
What happens during a Custody Evaluation?
After the evaluation process is started up, the custody evaluator makes arrangements to collect the information s/he needs to make a “best-interests” determination.
In order for the custody evaluator to make a recommendation, s/he will need to interview the parents, the children, other family members, friends, medical doctors, school teachers or anyone else that may provide the custody evaluator with valuable information. The custody evaluator has to obtain consent from the parents, or the child’s guardian, or the child’s custodian, before s/he is able to talk with anyone.
*Note: The custody evaluator can only talk to the parties’ mediator if both parties give written consent.
The custody evaluator may also wish to observe the children interacting with the parties and other individuals.
*Note: If ordered by the court, the custody evaluator can also request that the children be seen by a professional for diagnosis.
The custody evaluator may also review documentation including communications between the parties, legal documentation, physical and mental health records, criminal records, and any other documentation deemed important.
Once the custody evaluator has collected all of the information, s/he will often provide a short verbal report for the parties and their attorneys. If the parties can settle based on this information, the evaluator doesn’t need to do anything else.
What’s in the Custody Evaluator’s Report?
If the custody evaluation doesn’t resolve the parties custody and parenting time issue, the evaluator will then prepare a written report. The custody evaluator’s written report is submitted to both parties and ultimately can be submitted to the Judge. This report includes the custody evaluator’s review of the best-interests factors in the Minnesota child custody statute and recommendations for a custody and parenting time.
How is a Custody Evaluation used in Court?
Often, Judges call upon the help of a custody evaluator when making a decision in a custody matter before the court. Judges often hold the custody evaluator’s opinion in high regards, because of their experience, their exhaustive efforts, and their perceived neutrality in the situation. Often, the recommendations of the custody evaluator will be 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/her findings. This is typically the last task of the custody evaluator in a divorce or child custody case. In addition, the custody evaluator’s report can also be used as evidence during a trial.