Georgia Custody Evaluations: What Parents Should Know

Mental health professionals conduct forensic child custody evaluations, often referred to simply as custody evaluations, to help determine the best parenting arrangement for children.

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Common reasons for evaluations

A lawyer or parent can request a custody evaluation, but the judge ultimately decides whether to order it. The judge can also order an evaluation without being asked.

Concerns about the following may prompt the judge to order an evaluation:

Selecting an evaluator

Evaluators can be psychologists, psychiatrists or licensed clinical social workers. They cannot have previous involvement with the family. Most evaluators in Georgia operate through private practices.

Superior courts typically keep a log from which parents select an evaluator together. If they can't agree, the court chooses one for them.

Types of evaluations

Full custody evaluations

During a full custody evaluation, the evaluator examines each issue in a case. The evaluator may:

  • Interview parents and children
  • Conduct psychological evaluations of parents and children
  • Visit each parent's home
  • Observe parent–child interactions
  • Consult with professionals who have worked with the family, such as doctors or guardians ad litem
  • Interview other people who know the family
  • Review documents, such as school and medical records

Full evaluations take several months. To conclude, the evaluator writes a report that includes a custody recommendation for the judge. It may also include a recommended visitation schedule. The evaluator sends the report to the court and lawyers (or parents who are representing themselves) several weeks before the trial.

Parents cover the evaluation's cost, which can range from $20,000 to $30,000 depending on the number of children in the case. They usually split the cost evenly, but the judge may order a different division.

Focused-issue evaluations

During focused-issue evaluations, the evaluator examines a single issue in the case and does not make an overall custody recommendation.

Types of focused-issue evaluations include:

  • Psychological evaluations to examine a parent's mental health
  • Parental fitness evaluations to learn if a parent could successfully raise their child
  • Addictive disorders evaluations to determine whether a parent has a substance abuse problem or other addiction
  • Anger management evaluations to see how a parent with a history of violence responds to high-stress situations

Since they often conclude within a few weeks, focused-issue evaluations cost less than full evaluations; they generally fall in the $3,000 to $6,000 range. Parents usually split the cost evenly, but the judge can order them to divide it differently.

Special circumstances

The evaluator must report signs of neglect, child abuse or violent behavior by a parent. This usually extends the evaluation's timeline while the court or law enforcement investigates.

If the evaluator finds evidence of parental alienation, they may recommend giving the alienated parent sole legal and physical custody or visitation that increases over time. In addition, the alienated parent may need reunification therapy with the children.

If you believe an evaluator mishandled your case, you can file a complaint with Georgia's Professional Licensing Department.

Tips for parents going through an evaluation

  • Prepare with an attorney or legal professional.
  • Be honest.
  • Do not coach your children to say something they otherwise wouldn't.
  • Be respectful and calm. Every interaction with the evaluator can show up in the report.
  • Keep your child's interests and needs at the forefront.
  • Recognize both your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Ask for clarification when you do not understand something.
  • Dress neatly and arrive on time for appointments.
  • Keep your living space clean if the evaluator is coming to your home.
  • Consider providing letters of support from relatives and others who are close to your family. Although they may not change the evaluator's opinion, they can show your commitment to the process.

Staying organized

Evaluations add complexity to an already-complex process.

Throughout your case, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft custody schedules, track time with your child, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place. With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, a digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody and visitation.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

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