Child Custody Investigations and Evaluations in Virginia

Your Virginia custody case may require an investigation or evaluation, in which an expert gathers information about your family.

Judges in both Circuit Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (J&DR) commonly order these when cases involve domestic violence, major conflict or other situations that could put children's well-being at risk.

A parent can also pay for a private investigation or evaluation. They might do this if the court declines their request to have one ordered or if they want to refute findings.

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Court-ordered vs. private

Court-ordered investigators and evaluators write a report that's sent to the judge and both parents. It may include recommendations for custody, parenting time, parenting plan provisions, counseling and more. If children express reasonable custody preferences, these are also included.

Privately-hired investigators and evaluators write a similar report, but they usually share it only with the parent who hired them. That parent can submit the report to the court as evidence and call on the professional to testify in trial.

Judges don't always order the recommendations from court-ordered assessments, but they do give them great weight. They may not necessarily give the same consideration to private assessments.

When a judge orders an investigation or evaluation, parents must comply with the investigator or evaluator's requests. On the other hand, when one parent hires a private investigator or evaluator, neither parent has to comply.


Investigators interview each parent and the children individually. (Parents' lawyers may be able to observe). They also speak to extended family members, teachers, neighbors, doctors and others who know the family. Beyond this, they visit each parent's home and review records (e.g., school, medical and criminal records).

When a guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed to a case, they normally do an investigation. When child abuse is alleged or suspected, some courts order Child Protective Services to investigate instead of or in addition to a GAL.

If parents have an approved fee waiver, they don't pay for court-ordered investigations. Otherwise, the court can order parents to cover some or all of the investigation's costs, which vary by case.


Evaluations focus more on psychology and are generally done by psychologists or social workers. If the court orders parenting coordination while a case is in progress, the coordinator may conduct the evaluation.

Evaluations come in various forms. All include interviews, questionnaires and reviews of records (including medical records).

Substance abuse evaluations look at drug and alcohol use in relation to parenting. Mental health evaluations focus on a parent's overall psychological well-being. Full custody evaluations are like investigations but with mental health assessments of the parents and children.

If a parent requests the evaluation, they pay the evaluator's fees. The judge may also order an evaluation of their own accord and order parents to share the cost.

Staying organized

Custody investigations and evaluations add complexity to an already-difficult process. Effective preparation and organization are essential.

Throughout a standard case, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft custody schedules, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more. This kind of documentation becomes even more important when a professional is assessing you.

Luckily, the Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, parenting time calendars, a parenting journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody.

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

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