Ohio Custody Evaluations: What Parents Should Know

Forensic custodial evaluations, often referred to simply as child custody evaluations, are assessments conducted by mental health professionals to determine what's best for children in a case.

Evaluations can be requested by a parent, recommended by a guardian ad litem or ordered by a judicial officer on his or her own accord. While they vary in length and focus, their end result remains the same: a confidential report that includes an official recommendation to the court.

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Common reasons for evaluations

Judicial officers frequently order evaluations to gather information that can aid their final decision. They can do this prior to trial or, if a parent appeals the final order, after trial.

Serious conflict between parents is the most common catalyst for an evaluation. Conflict usually becomes obvious through the allegations parents make against one another, or through investigations conducted by social workers or guardians ad litem.

Concerns about the following also regularly prompt custody evaluations:

Parents can personally hire an evaluator if they believe it will reveal information that can help their case for custody. Parents do not need one another's approval to hire an evaluator.

Selecting an evaluator

Evaluators can be psychologists, marriage and family therapists or licensed clinical social workers. They cannot have previous involvement with the family.

Many county courts have evaluators on staff. If the court does not order an evaluation or doesn't have staff evaluators, parents can select an independent evaluator.

Types of evaluations

During a full custody evaluation, the evaluator uses whatever sources necessary to assess each custody issue in a case. He or she may:

  • Interview parents and children
  • Conduct psychological tests on parents and children
  • Visit each parent's home
  • Consult with professionals who have worked with the family, such as doctors
  • Interview other people who know the family
  • Review documents, such as school files and police records

The evaluator often focuses on different traits in parents and children — for example, stress management for parents and school performance for children.

Full evaluations can take as little as 10 days or as many as three months depending on the issues at hand.

Parents usually pay a flat fee up front, and add more if the evaluator works over a certain number of hours. Total costs start at about $2,000 for a full evaluation by a county court evaluator, and may reach over $7,000 for an experienced evaluator at a private practice.

Not all cases require a full evaluation. Other, less costly types of evaluations include:

  • Fitness to parent evaluations: These determine if parents are mentally and emotionally capable of caring for children.
  • Brief focused evaluations: These investigate a single issue, such as the likelihood of a parent taking the children out of the country.
  • Early neutral evaluations (ENE): These assess each parent's case to guide them toward settlement.
Evaluator's report

The evaluator compiles his or her findings into a report that includes an official custody recommendation.

The body of the report details the interviews, interactions and psychological test results, among other information.

The conclusion of the report contains the custody recommendation, along with an explanation of how the evaluator reached his or her decision. The recommendation may include a specific parenting time schedule that can include limitations such as supervised visitation.

Before trial, the evaluator shares the report with the court, attorneys and parents; no one else can access it. The report is one important factor the judicial officer considers when making a final custody decision.

Special circumstances

Some cases require more than one evaluator or specialist. For instance, one may look at an issue like substance abuse, while another writes the final report. Psychological testing must be done by a trained psychologist, so a second expert may be needed if your evaluator isn't qualified.

If an evaluator suspects child abuse, child neglect, substance abuse or violence between parents, he or she may recommend a guardian ad litem, further investigation or therapy.

Evaluators look for a behavior called parental alienation — one parent attempting to harm the other's relationship with the children through lies and manipulation. If an evaluator finds signs of alienation, he or she may recommend awarding the alienated parent sole custody or gradually-increasing parenting time, as well as reunification therapy with the children.

If you believe your evaluator mishandled your case, you may file a complaint with Ohio's professional licensure department.

Alternative to evaluations: Home investigations

Some county courts offer home investigations, though they're less common than evaluations. The investigator is a social worker or guardian ad litem who visits each parent's home and interviews the family and other people with knowledge of the case.

Like an evaluator, the investigator writes a report for the court that includes a custody recommendation. It may also suggest the family undergo medical or psychological evaluation, since investigators are not qualified to perform this testing.

Investigations generally take several months to complete, and parents split the fees, which are often lower than those of a full evaluation.

Tips for parents going through an evaluation
  • Prepare with an attorney or legal professional.
  • Dress neatly for appointments, and arrive on time.
  • Keep your living space clean if the evaluator will visit.
  • Do not coach your children.
  • Remember that your interactions with the evaluator will go into a report. Be respectful, and keep a cool head.
  • Keep your child's interests at the forefront.
  • Be honest.
  • Recognize both your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for clarification when you don't understand something.
  • Consider providing letters of support from people close to you. 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 of 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.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My Ohio Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

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