The overriding principle of the evaluation will be to determine what is in the best interest of the children involved. Before scheduling the initial visit, I must have a signed order from a judge appointing me as the evaluator, signed consent and fee agreements, and the required deposit ($2000).
The purpose of a custody or parent-time evaluation is to determine what arrangement is best for your children in terms of how important decisions are made and how they share time with each parent. The procedures of the evaluation are designed to fairly assess all parties and make a recommendation to the court.
The typical evaluation procedure involves the following:
1. Each parent returns the signed consent and fee agreement. The court order and payment deposit (retainer) are received.
2. Both parents will complete the Initial Parent Questionnaire. It can be downloaded from the Forms page my website www.ChrisWehl.com/forms. It is extremely helpful if you type your responses on the document and return it to me via email. It is important that this be completed and returned before the initial interview is scheduled.
3. The initial interview is scheduled. I typically meet with the parents together for 2-3 hours. I prefer to meet with both parents jointly, to ensure that each hears the other’s position about significant issues and proposals for a parenting plan. While this may be uncomfortable for some, divorced parents will need to communicate with one another under all but the most extreme circumstances, and I like to observe their ability to do this. If you have a strong opposition to a joint meeting, please explain the reasons, and I will consider meeting with each parent alone. During this meeting I will want to know the history of the parents’ relationship. I will want to know what the parents are unable to agree upon, how they discuss disputed issues, and what they each want. I will want to know what complaints you have of the other parent, and will eventually want to see what objective evidence supports your complaints or concerns. Anything in writing will be reviewed, and is usually helpful to the process. I will want to know who each parent believes I could contact to support their position (less obviously biased persons being preferred). Please download and complete the Collateral Contact Form on my website for details. If either parent is involved in a new relationship, the significant other will need to be involved in the evaluation process. I will also suggest how to prepare the children for the evaluation process.
4. I will review documents you provide me that you think are relevant to the question of custody. This could include court documents, letters, emails, or text messages between the parties, supervised exchange notes, prior psychological evaluations, police reports, Facebook data, DOPL controlled substance database reports, etc. Reviewing documents is quite time-consuming, so please limit documents to those that prove a point that isn’t known from other sources or that would be important to the custody recommendation. It is helpful if you can attach a note that explains what you think I will learn from reviewing the document.
5. Our next meeting will be for each parent to be interviewed and to complete the psychological testing (at my office). I will meet with each parent separately for 4+ hours to go over answers from your questionnaire that require clarification, and to let you respond to criticisms made by the other parent on their questionnaire. We will schedule more interviews until I have reviewed all the questions raised in the questionnaires. Testing will usually take about 3 hours.
6. I will contact collaterals that each parent has identified as having relevant information to share. I will decide which suggested collaterals to contact. The Collateral Contact Form on my website collects the needed information.
7. I will then want to have dinner at each parent’s home with the children present. Ideally, this will be just a typical dinner, though I would ask to have the TV off and that the family members sit together at a table so I can observe family interaction. Please don’t prepare anything special or out of the ordinary. The purpose is to see how the children interact with each parent during a routine, daily family event. I will not want to be the focus of the dinner, but to observe the family function, so don’t feel the need to entertain me. It is ideal if you can interact as a family as you would if I was not present. During this visit, I will ask the children to give me a tour of the home, yard, and perhaps, neighborhood.
8. If you have videotapes of family events that predated the separation, and you think they might be useful for documenting how the parents or children behaved, please make a copy for me.
9. I will then want to meet with the school-aged children, separately. I will usually spend about 2 hours interviewing each child, usually in tw0 visits, transported by each parent. I will want the children’s teacher to complete a Child Behavior Check List on each child. Testing of the children is usually short and simple, unless there is need for more thorough testing.
10. If there are step-parents or significant others, I will interview them.
11. After I have completed the information-gathering portion of the evaluation, I will notify your attorney, so she or he can arrange a 4-903 settlement conference.
12. At the settlement conference, I will discuss the needs of the children and each parent’s and stepparent’s ability and propensity to provide for those needs. I will be prepared to speak to more general issues of custody and give verbal recommendations about legal and physical custody. Hopefully, you will be able to agree to a settlement at this time, rather than proceed to trial.
13. If settlement is not possible, I will be informed by your attorney, and will begin preparing a formal report, after receiving the deposit for the report ($2000).
14. When the balance of the bill is paid, I will submit my report to each attorney, the judge, and when applicable, the guardian ad litem.