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Know what to expect from a custody evaluation

If you and your co-parent are unable to reach a child custody agreement on your own, with the help of your attorneys, a judge may order a custody evaluation to help them make a decision.

Sometimes these evaluations are performed as the couple is divorcing. Other times, they're ordered if one or both parents believe the current custody arrangement isn't what's best for their kids. While an evaluation may be ordered by a judge, it can also be requested by parents.

These evaluations are typically conducted by a psychologist or other mental health professional. They'll talk to your children, both parents and sometimes others in your children's lives. They may also observe you as you interact with your kids. They may do some psychological evaluations. Then the evaluator makes a recommendation about custody to the court, based on what they believe is in the children's best interests.

It's natural to feel nervous about an evaluation. You may feel that your fitness as a parent is being judged. However, the better prepared you are, the more confident you'll likely feel. Here are some tips:

Cooperate with the evaluator. No matter how you feel about the evaluation, being hostile or unresponsive to the person conducting it isn't going to help you.

Treat it like a job interview. Be on time, dress appropriately and have relevant documentation, like court documents, ready. Find out ahead of time what documents the evaluator wants to see.

Place your children's best interests first. Show the evaluator that your priority is doing what's best for your kids -- not in impressing them or in berating your co-parent.

Talk with your attorney before the evaluation and between visits if the evaluation lasts over a period of days or longer (as they sometimes do). They've likely had other clients go through this process, so they can offer valuable guidance, answer your questions and address your concerns.

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