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3 tips for handling a child custody evaluation

Child custody evaluations are a common part of the process when parents can't agree on an important custody issue.

Naturally, these evaluations can be stressful—nobody really enjoys a stranger poking around into their private lives, especially knowing that such an important issue rides on his or her opinion. Here are the things you need to keep in mind when dealing with the custody evaluator.

-- Keep in mind that the evaluator is a neutral party appointed by the court to look into your child's well-being. He or she is not interested in your past or present issues with your ex-spouse. If you bring up past issues of infidelity, financial responsibility or other adult issues that don't directly affect the children, that's a red flag for the evaluator that you might be more focused on personal anger or a need for retribution instead of the needs of your child.

For example, if your ex-spouse had a drinking problem throughout your marriage but is now sober and attending AA meetings, bringing up things that he or she did when drinking is inappropriate.

-- Focus on the strength of your relationship with your child and how you feel that you and your child relate well together. Put some thought into your child's psychological needs, not just his or her physical needs.

For example, if your child seems to feel anger at his or her other parent, be prepared to discuss how you plan to help your child through the anger so that he or she can move forward. Are you able to be kind about your ex-spouse's flaws? Can you help your child see the other parent as simply human? You want to show that you can talk about your ex-spouse without demonizing him or her to your child.

-- Don't try to extensively "prep" your child for the evaluator's interview ahead of time. It's okay to tell your child that the evaluator is helping the court decide how much time the child spends with each parent, but don't encourage or coach your child into portraying the other parent in a specific way. That can be very transparent and reflect poorly on you.

For more advice on handling a custody evaluation process, talk to your attorney about your concerns.

Source: American Psychological Association, "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings," accessed Feb. 17, 2017

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