Child Custody Evaluations in Texas: Essentials to Know
Texas Courts Use Child Custody Evaluations in Determining Custody Arrangements
Child custody evaluations in Texas are court-ordered assessments of parents and their children to help determine custody arrangements in Texas divorce cases. There are some great children out there, with loving parents who would walkthrough fire for their child. And when both parents are great parents, determining custody disputes through settlement or by trial, often requires some expert assistance. Certainly, the parents and their family lawyers are going to present them in the best light to the judge, but more digging needs to take place when the judge needs to decide or strongly recommend a settlement as they are likely to rule.
When the Court orders a child custody evaluation in Texas divorce and custody cases, there is often a list of approved mental health professionals the lawyers can agree upon, or the judge makes the appointment to the best of their discretion.
Southlake child custody attorney Leslie Barrows has well-established working relationships with so many of the great local child custody evaluators. It is important to treat them well as important professionals in the process and remember they are an extension of the judge and Court in a custody case. In this article, we are happy to share some essentials to know about the process of Child Custody Evaluations in Texas.
Child Custody Evaluations of Parent-Child Relationships
A child custody evaluation is an assessment of the parents and the child(ren) involved in a custody dispute. The evaluation is conducted by a mental health professional appointed by the court, and their role is to provide recommendations to the judge about what custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.
When both parents seek to be appointed as primary parents and conservators with the right to determine the residence of the child(ren),the child custody evaluation highlights any instances or character components that help the judge and the parties determine or settle disputes about what is alleged in the pleadings of the case about the parties, namely allegations of fact about the other parent as to whether they should be awarded primary or sole custody.
Mental Health Professionals Are Appointed by the Court to Conduct Child Custody Evaluations
The evaluation is conducted by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker, who has experience working with families and children. The evaluator must be approved by the court. In Texas child custody cases and suits affecting parent-child relationships, the Family Code identifies the powers and duties of the professionals appointed by the court, namely child custody evaluators.
Find topics related to child custody evaluations in our Barrows Firm blog article, Divorcing With Children 105: How to Prepare for Court including the following,
The Role of a Child Custody Evaluator in Texas:
“You or the opposing party can request the Court order child custody evaluation. Working well with the evaluator is important to prepare for court. Leslie Barrows can help you prepare your expectations of a child custody evaluator process when divorcing with children.
Be prepared for the judge to give great weight to the recommendations of the custody evaluator. Of course, the evaluator’s report can be challenged when necessary. What is most important to the court in making findings for child custody and parenting time is what is in the best interest of the child. It is in a child’s best interest to have good relationships with both parents, without abuse, neglect, or parental alienation.”
Evaluations Are Done Through Interviews Among Family Members, Friends, and Others
The evaluation typically involves interviews with the parents, the child(ren), and other individuals involved in the child's life, such as teachers, coaches, or healthcare providers. The evaluator may also observe the parent-child interactions, review documents, and administer psychological tests.
Related Article: Reflections on Mental Health Professionals Working with Divorcing Parents Outside the Courtroom
Along the process, the court may order limitations, or directions, if any, as to what types of tests and examinations are appropriate because every case and family is unique. The scope and depth of child custody evaluation orders reflect the allegations made among the parties in the case. Some allegations are of isolated incidents, and others lead inquiries into deeper potential problems, the kind that can affect the ability of a person to function in the role of a responsible parent. The best interests of the child(ren) require attention to detail when serious allegations are made.
Evaluations Can Take Several Weeks to Months Depending on the Circumstances
The length of the evaluation can vary, but it typically takes several months to complete. The Court’s order and discovery schedule often includes deadlines including custody evaluation reports. There can be a tendency for some people to attempt to thwart the process by not cooperating with the custody evaluation process and that may involve conflict with the mental health professional appointed in the case.
At any point in the process, the attorney for one of the parties can ask the Court to assist in urging compliance with the Court’s orders and penalize parties for willful contempt. Messing around with the process only costs people more time and money in the long run.
Parents Often Share Evaluation Costs or the Court Orders a Party to Pay
The cost of the evaluation is usually split between the parents, but the court may order one parent to pay the entire cost if they have the financial means to do so. If one of the parties is causing problems in the case, it may be suggested to have an evaluation ordered when that was not the original game plan, and in that case, the Court can be asked to order the aggravating party to pay for more or all of the evaluation. It all depends on the case, how things are going, and what is fair and equitable given the facts and circumstances.
See our related article about problem parents, Verbal and Emotional Abuse in Texas Divorce and Family Law
The Evaluator Files a Recommendation Report with the Court
The evaluator will provide a written report to the court with their findings and recommendations. The judge will consider the report along with other evidence presented in the case when making a custody determination. The judge reads the findings and recommendations in the report and ideally uses that valuable information in making a custody determination. In many cases, the judge will urge the parties to settle their disputes and let them know in which way they are leaning if they must make an official ruling to decide custody. Judges strongly prefer parties to agree to settle their issues and decide, but certainly in many instances that just is not possible.
Challenging the Child Custody Evaluation Assessment and Report
Yes, the evaluation can be challenged by either parent if they believe the evaluator was biased or made errors in their assessment. However, challenging the evaluation can be a complex and costly process.
The human element that is room for error is the custody evaluators themselves, and any bias they may hold, knowingly or unknowingly. Remember, however, that challenging the recommendation of the evaluator, or asking for the evaluator to be removed from the case, can lead to more problems and is difficult for all involved. The most important factor is the best interest of the child(ren).
Overall, child custody evaluations in Texas are an important tool used by the court to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child. Parents are encouraged to cooperate with the evaluation process and provide honest and accurate information to the evaluator.
Seek Advice and Counsel at the Barrows Firm in Southlake for Information about Child Custody Evaluations in Texas and Related Matters (817) 481-1583