Once an official report is made by the evaluator, and provided to the Court, the Court will in almost always issues an Administrative Order that directs whom may, and may not, review or have copies of the report.
Most orders dictate that only counsel of record (e.g., an attorney) may keep and retain an actual physical copy of the report. If both parties have an attorney, the order will further state that although the parties’ respective attorneys can keep a physical copy of the report, that the attorney cannot provide a copy to their client, nor let their client read directly from the report. What the order will permit, however, is for an attorney to review the report in detail with their client (e.g., discuss its findings and recommendations). If a part is pro se (meaning they do not have an attorney), the court will permit such a party to review the report, but they will have to go to the Judge’s courtroom to do so, and are still prohibited from taking any direct notes from the report, or leaving the courtroom with a copy.
What Final Decisions Can Be Made Based On That Report? Judges will often utilize any GAL or Custody Evaluation report to help them in reaching their final decisions in a custody dispute. To be clear, these reports typically only address concerns and issues relating to legal custody and/or parenting time. Thus, they will not typically speak to any issues dealing with finances, whether that be child support, or estate division. As such, these reports are therefore limited to helping Judges decide issues of legal custody and parenting time.
How Big A Part Of The Decision Is The Report?Typically, if a case has got to a point where the Court has to appoint a GAL or Custody Evaluator, and in turn has to request a report from this person, then often the Judge will traditionally put quite a bit of emphasis and importance on a report’s findings and recommendations. This is not to say every judge will necessarily “rubber stamp” and approve the findings and recommendations of any report. And indeed, judges will from time to time deviate from the recommendations of a GAL or Custody Evaluator. It is the level of deviation that changes from case to case. That is, in some cases a judge may make a minor change to a reporter’s overall recommendations (for example, give a parent one more night of parenting time during the week than originally recommended). In other, much more rare cases, a Judge may deviate more drastically. In the end, however, any report will carry with a high degree of significance. This is why it is important that both parties clearly explain all their issues and concerns to the GAL or evaluator during the information gathering stage their investigation.
Why Should A Parent Cooperate With The Custody Evaluation? Arguably the biggest reason to cooperate with an evaluator (or GAL) is because that individual has the ability to, and will eventually report back to the Court on its findings during an investigation. And the last thing either party should want is for the evaluator to report back to the Judge—e.g., the same person who will be deciding your case—that a party is not cooperating in the investigation process.
Others reasons would include wanting to get a favorable evaluation and report for your case and position. If you do not cooperate and work voluntarily with an evaluator that will arguably greatly decrease the likelihood of a party getting a favorable report. There is an old saying: “impressions are important.” This saying holds true in a child custody evaluation as well. A party that finds themselves in such an investigation would thus be wise to cooperate and work well with any evaluator.