HOW CAN ONE PREPARE A CHILD FOR THE INTERVIEW WITH A CUSTODY EVALUATOR AND A GUARDIAN AD LITEM?
Generally, Court asks, and parents are encouraged, to keep any such conversations as “high level” as possible. That is, neither parent should go into great detail about what the evaluator will be doing, or why they were appointed in the first place. While that may sound odd upon first reading, you can be assured there are a lot of good reasons for why the Court asks parents to refrain from low-level, high detailed conversations with their kids directly about the interview and investigation. Two of the primary reasons for this are: (1) the Court wanting to keep children as far removed from direct involvement in the Court process as possible, thus hopefully minimizing any negative long-term impact such process may have on children; and (2) a desire to avoid any potential allegations of “coaching” by one parent or another during the evaluation process.
While every attorney would likely advise a client a little differently here, generally speaking, parties are advised to keep their conversations with their children limited to advising the children the Court has asked a “nice person” (or use a title that a child would feel comfortable with) to come visit the home and talk with “you” (the child) briefly about your time in our (e.g., parent’s) home. Do not tell children that the purpose of the visit is to determine custody, or parenting time, or anything to that effect. Do not tell a child what they should say to the investigator, other than potentially general comments such as, “if you are asked a question, do your best to answer, and answer honestly.” Again, things should be kept high-level for all children, and parents are highly encouraged to speak as little as possible with the children directly about the evaluation process. If they start to ask lots of questions, a general response of “I understand your questions, but the adults need to work through somethings before we can talk about this a lot” is advised. Most GALs and evaluators will also tell the children in any case that they (the children) should contact the evaluator or GAL directly if they have questions about the process. As most would rather file the children’s directly as opposed to risking a child and adult engaging in an inappropriate court related conversation.
Who Conducts The Child Custody Evaluation? Depending on the local District Court the Order for Child Custody Evaluation comes from, this can change. In Johnson County, KS, there is a specific Domestic Section of local Court Services, and it is this Section of Court Services, and its employees, who conduct the evaluations. These individuals are specifically trained in the process, and generally possess some form of background or degree in social work or other like fields of study. Some other counties have direct county employees who conduct the evaluations as well.
In contrast, in more rural counties in Kansas, it is not uncommon for the Court to outsource such evaluations to approved third-party providers. But again, the Court will make this decision. If the matter is referred out to a third-party agency or individual, the Court or the parties attorneys will often times have handpicked or selected this agency or individual, and they too historically have similar training or experience in social work or other like fields of study.
Who Chooses The Custody Evaluator? It can differ from case to case. Generally, however, either the Court selects and appoints the evaluator, or in cases where both sides are represented by counsel, there are situations where the attorneys will have discussed ahead of time both that they need an evaluation, and further who the evaluator should be. If the parties and counsel come to Court with an agreement as to who should conduct an evaluation (assuming it is not by Court Services, but some outside third-party or agency), Judges will often times respect that agreement and seek to honor it and appoint the evaluator agreed upon by the parties.
If We Have A Choice In Choosing The Guardian Ad Litem Or The Evaluator, What Criteria Should We Be Looking At? The short answer is: experience. Unfortunately, most individuals dealing with these potential phases of a divorce or custody dispute have little to no experience in dealing with same, and therefore would naturally not have a lot of insight here. This is why traditionally the Court will always appoint someone itself if you have two parties, and neither has an attorney. If, however, one or both sides do have an attorney, the best place to go for options would be to that attorney, as he or she will have very likely dealt with both of these processes in the past, and can recommend good GALs or Custody Evaluators.
Who Pays For The Child Custody Evaluation? Once more, this can, and often does, differ from case to case. Generally speaking, however, Court’s typical order the parties to split the cost. With the cost being split either 50/50, or in proportion to income (e.g., if one party makes 30% of total party income, and the other 70%, that is how the Court would split the cost).
There are situations however where the Court may order one party to pay 100% of the cost up front. If this is done, the Court would also typically reserve jurisdiction to reapportion those fees at a later date assuming reapportionment was warranted.
Even more rare, there are a few situations where Court’s will order an evaluation at no cost to the parties. But this is an extremely rare occurrence, and is reserved for special case with unique circumstances.
In the end, however, it is again the Judge who will ultimately order the cost breakdown.