3 Significant Facts about a Custody Evaluation

Divorce, Family/Kids, Relationships

This week’s episode of Beyond Dispute from Avvo focuses on aspects of child custody including child custody evaluations, co-parent counseling, and special mastering. Attorney Eric Newton discusses the topic with psychologist Dr. Bram Fridhandler, a custody evaluator, co-parent counselor, divorce coach, and special master.

1. Custody evaluations typically take anywhere from 3-6 months.

As Dr. Fridhandler explains, a custody evaluation is a thorough investigation of the situation of a child whose parents are involved in a custody dispute. The investigation focuses on areas the parents disagree on. In a custody evaluation, Dr. Fridhandler spends time with the child and parents separately and interviews many people including teachers, pediatricians, therapists, and other people in the child’s life. The goal is to find out how the child is doing and if he or she is having any troubles. After gathering all the information, Dr. Fridhandler writes a thorough report detailing what he learned and outlining recommendations. The whole process takes several months.

2. Co-parent counseling reduces conflict between co-parents, which benefits the children.

Dr. Fridhandler describes the two main functions of co-parent counselor. First, co-parent counselors help parents come up with the initial agreement that addresses issues like how much time the child will spend at each house and how vacations will be handled. Second, they help parents work together and reduce conflict. Often, co-parents will attend regular sessions until they establish a better way of interacting with each other, and then the sessions will become less frequent.

Research on children of divorce has found that a child’s success in adulthood is partially related to how much parental conflict they’re exposed to. Dr. Fridhandler explains how children love both of their parents, and that dealing with one parent’s anger or hatred towards the other is extremely difficult. For that reason, it’s best to limit the child’s exposure to the conflict as much as possible.

3. Special mastering can save thousands of dollars in court fees.

“Special mastering,” also known in other places as “parent coordinating,” allows psychologists like Dr. Fridhandler to take on responsibility and make decisions that would otherwise be made in court by a judge. The kind of decisions he could make include, for example, the decision on where a child should spend Christmas Eve this year. Instead of dealing with a prolonged argument over the subject, the parents can hand that decision over to a special master who will look at the situation and try to determine what’s best for the child.

Questions from People on Avvo.com

“I have 50-50 legal and physical custody of my children and I’d like to relocate residence to another state. What can I do?”

As a co-parent counselor, Dr. Fridhandler would help both parents listen to the upsides and the downsides for the child of one parent moving out of state, and discuss whether the move is necessary. He would also discuss how to help the child maintain a strong relationship with the parent who does not have primary custody. As a custody evaluator, he may have to come into the middle of such a case and make a recommendation on whether the child should live with the parent who is staying or the one who is moving.

“When a 703 evaluation is ordered by the court, is the evaluator given a copy of the case file prior to those meetings?”

Yes. The parents must give the evaluator the documents, as they will help inform the evaluator of the situation.

“How long do I need to attend co-parent counseling? What if the court order is unclear or leaves it up to the therapist to decide? What should I do if my ex is not attending the co-parent counseling?”

Dr. Fridhandler says co-parent counseling should continue until things are better. Co-parents should be able to talk to each other and make simple decisions among themselves.

Consult an Attorney

Dr. Fridhandler can be found at www.DrFridhandler.com. If you are facing custody issues, consult an attorney in your state on these matters.