Parenting Evaluations in Washington Child Custody Cases

Parenting evaluations are assessments conducted by mental health professionals to determine what's best for a child.

They result in a report for the judge that includes a custody recommendation.

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Common reasons for evaluations

Parents can agree to an evaluation, one parent can ask the judge for an evaluation or the judge can order one without request.

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

An evaluator looks specifically at how parents meet their child's daily needs, including emotional needs.

Selecting and paying an evaluator

Evaluators are mental health experts with experience in family law matters. Yours cannot have any previous connection to you or your family.

Parents may choose an evaluator together or each hire their own. Otherwise, the court selects one for them.

An evaluation can cost thousands of dollars. The judge might order parents to split the total based on their relative incomes or have one parent assume all the costs.

During the evaluation

The evaluator may need weeks or months to study the dynamics between the child and each parent. They may:

  • Interview the child and parents individually
  • Conduct psychological testing on the family
  • Observe the family at home
  • Interview friends, relatives and others involved with the family (like teachers or doctors)
  • Review documents related to the case, such as school or health records

Don't be surprised if the evaluator interviews people multiple times.

If you refuse to turn over documents to the evaluator or participate in part of the process, the judge can order you to comply.

Evaluator's report

To bring their work to a close, the evaluator submits a report to the court. They also give copies to you and your attorney, if you have one.

The report details the strengths and weaknesses of each parent, the relationships among the parties and a recommendation for dividing decision-making and residential time.

Evaluators keep detailed records of their work, and parents can request to see these records. However, notes from the child's interview are available at the evaluator's discretion, and psychological testing data is only available if the judge orders it.

Parents can address concerns with the evaluator's report at a hearing or at trial.

The judge considers the evaluator's recommendations when issuing a permanent order.

Special circumstances

Your evaluator will watch for signs of parental alienation, which is when a parent manipulates their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims. If the evaluator finds evidence of alienation, they may recommend a sole residential schedule or gradually-increasing residential time for the alienated parent.

If an evaluator suspects child abuse, child neglect, substance abuse or domestic violence, they will report it. They may recommend therapy and further investigation.

Tips for parents going through an evaluation

  • Meet with an attorney or use other custody resources to understand the process.
  • Take all interactions with the evaluator seriously. Arrive on time, dress neatly, come prepared with documents, etc.
  • Show that your child is a priority in your life. Keep their interests at the forefront, rather than your own.
  • Remember your words and actions will go into a report. Treat the evaluator with respect, and don't argue.
  • Be honest. Recognize both your strengths and your weaknesses as a parent.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Don't coach your child.
  • Be forthcoming with any questions you have.

Staying organized

Evaluations add complexity to an already-complex process.

Throughout your case, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft residential schedules, track conversations 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, residential calendars, parent-to-parent messaging 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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