A custody evaluation is an evaluation conducted by a psychologist to analyze the living situations, family dynamics, any mental health issues of the parties, and other relevant concerns and to make recommendations based on the child(ren)’s best interests in an ongoing custody matter. In Pennsylvania, custody evaluations are authorized by Pa.R.C.P. 1915.8.
Parties in a custody matter may agree to a custody evaluation, or the court may order the parties to participate in a custody evaluation. Absent an agreement by the parties, the court can also specify how the parties will split the cost of the evaluation. The court can impose deadlines and require the parties to execute authorization or consent forms to facilitate the evaluation.
Typically, a custody evaluator will speak with both the child(ren) and the parties (usually the parents, but the parties may also be grandparents, legal guardians, etc.). While the custody evaluator will take into account any input from the parties, the ultimate goal of a custody evaluation is determining what is in the child(ren)’s best interest. The custody evaluator will look at the same factors the court would consider in determining the best custody arrangement for the child(ren), including but not limited to factors such as a party’s stability, the child(ren)’s relationship with a party, a party’s drug or alcohol abuse, and which party is more likely to encourage the child(ren) to have a relationship with the other party.
Custody evaluations are often lengthy, taking months and sometimes over a year to complete, and generally cost several thousand dollars. Due to their cost and the time it takes to complete them, custody evaluations are generally used in more contentious cases, and the court will often recommend other avenues to resolve a custody dispute before ordering a custody evaluation.