Depending upon the outcome, a custody evaluation can either be a tremendous help to your case or a fatal blow. These guidelines are intended to help you in selecting an evaluator who will perform a fair and impartial investigation.
Since an evaluator has almost unlimited authority in writing his report (which essentially decides the outcome of a custody dispute), you want to make the one you use is both qualified and experienced As is true in any profession, there are good evaluators and bad evaluators.
Whenever possible, choose an evaluator who is a member of PACE, the Professional Academy of Custody Evaluators. PACE is a private, non-profit corporation and membership organization whose primary goal is to register custody evaluators based on specific criteria and to disseminate information concerning the education, training, and experience of Registered Custody Evaluators. Contact PACE at 1-800-633-7223, or send e-mail to [email protected] to find out if your evaluator is a registered member. If your evaluator is not a registered member of PACE, find out why.
Whenever possible, choose an evaluator who has someone overseeing or reviewing his work. This is crucial, because an evaluator who answers to no one can do (or not do) virtually anything they like, and write their report in any manner they wish. Find out if the evaluator is an independent agent (avoid these if possible) or part of a team (preferred). One example of evaluators whose actions are overseen or reviewed are those in Parent Evaluator Training Programs. These training programs are usually found at universities and colleges.
These "evaluators in training" are watched carefully by their instructors, as are the final reports they issue. The fact that their actions and reports are reviewed by more experienced evaluators makes it less likely that errors will occur or improper evaluation methods will be used. Having their work reviewed also means that crucial data will be less likely to be ignored or discounted.
Using a "Private Practice" evaluator who is not part of any group or team and who does not "answer" to anyone can be a disaster if personal bias or incompetency becomes an issue. Being in business for themselves and having no authority to answer to means they also have no "oversight" applied to their report and recommendation(s)- a potentially bad situation. (That being said, it should also be noted that there are many competent and knowledgeable private practice evaluators available.)
Have your attorney request information from the evaluator about his professional credentials. (Do not request this information yourself; instruct your attorney do it. You do not want it to appear to the evaluator that you are questioning his credentials.) Ask for particulars on:
How many years of experience he/she has
His educational background
The type of degree he/she holds
The testing and observation methods he/she uses
His/her opinion on joint custody arrangements
His/her ratio of father/mother recommendations (see below)
If his/her work is reviewed by any independent authority
Having your attorney request this information serves to put the evaluator "on notice" that he and his methods are under scrutiny. Knowing this, he is more likely to take pains to ensure that his evaluation is done "by the book" and that his final report is fair and factual.
Pay particular attention to the information on which parent the evaluator has recommended for custody in the past. Does the evaluator consistently find that the mother is the "preferred parent"? How often does he find that the father should be the primary parent? An impartial parenting evaluator should not favor either gender in his decisions.
If his past record suggests that his determinations are historically lopsided or gender-biased (for example, he almost always recommends the mother), find another evaluator or be prepared to challenge his "findings".
Insist on the right to have an independent review of the evaluation. If the evaluator has no independent authority reviewing his methods and final report, insist on the option to have his work and his final report reviewed by another evaluator of your choosing. This may serve as your only legal means to invalidate an inappropriately conducted evaluation or an improperly written final report.
Finally, if you think that the evaluator is biased or is conducting the evaluation improperly, notify your attorney immediately. Report any unethical, improper, or biased behavior BEFORE the evaluator's report is written and the custody recommendation is made. We cannot stress this enough- raising concerns during the evaluation and before the final recommendation is made is crucial. In some cases, concerns raised during the evaluation are cause for the court to throw out the evaluator's report (and with it, the custody recommendation).