Determining child custody can be one of the most difficult and emotional aspects of a divorce. In many cases, parents are able to reach an agreement that's acceptable to both sides. However, in other situations, reaching a decision may be more challenging. If this happens, the court orders a custody evaluation to help achieve an arrangement deemed best for the children.
What Is a Custody Evaluation?
A custody evaluation is an assessment made by a third party, such as a mental health expert, of the parents and others who will reside with the children.
There are three types of custody evaluations in New Mexico:
- Family court clinic. Court clinic provides mediation and evaluation through psychologists and counselors at a low cost. Through clinic court, the custody evaluation process can last six months to one year.
- 706 experts. A 706 expert—pertaining to Rule 11-706—is a private custody evaluator. Families may employ a 706 expert because they're unhappy with the results of court clinic, or because they wish to expedite the evaluation process. The court may also appoint this expert in cases that are difficult to resolve or have a lot of conflicts. The 706 expert performs the same function as court clinic—providing a recommendation to the court about the most effective custody arrangement.
- Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). In custody cases with extreme levels of conflict, the court may appoint a GAL. This position is an attorney for the children who is responsible to “advocate zealously” for their best interests. A GAL isn't bound by any client’s objectives. Rather, he or she performs a complete investigation into the children’s lives to determine the best situation.
What to Expect From the Evaluation Process
In all custody evaluations, a third party meets with parents and the children individually. He or she also interviews any significant others and other family members who care for the children. The people involved will likely undergo psychological testing, have to complete questionnaires, and be observed interacting with the children.
It's important for families to understand how much time this process takes, depending on the cooperation of all the people involved, the availability of others with pertinent information, and the evaluator's schedule. Additionally, these situations are often sensitive and contentious, so it can be challenging to find an appropriate evaluator.
An Attorney Can Help With Your Custody Evaluation
A court-ordered custody evaluation can be invasive, costly, and exhausting. Even after the process is complete, you may still not agree with the determination of the evaluator. While evaluators don't issue the final decision about your custody arrangement, most courts highly consider their opinions.
An experienced family law attorney can provide essential guidance if you need to prepare for or dispute an evaluation. Your relationship with your children may be significantly affected by the outcome of a custody evaluation, so it's helpful to have an advocate who understands what you're going through and can be your partner in the process.
Knowledgeable and dedicated, the attorneys at Genus Law Group are ready to help. To get started, call our office today, or take a moment to fill out the contact form on this page.