"They said I need to go see you and take some tests or something to figure out if I’m a good parent."
Many of my first contacts with parents ordered by the court to undergo independent psychological evaluations in child custody cases begin something like this. What has over time become a fairly routine procedure for many family lawyers, judges, and mental health professionals is anything but that for parents who are facing it for the first time. The following brief article is intended to acquaint you with what a custody evaluation is, the purposes it serves, and how to approach it in a prepared and confident manner.
Why do I have to do this?
If you have been asked to participate in an independent psychological evaluation, it is because either the judge (or someone standing in for her-e.g., a court referee) ordered it or both attorneys agreed that it would be a good idea. Some court orders are very specific, offering detailed instructions to the evaluator and to the parties about who will be evaluated, for what purpose, using what kinds of information, paid for by whom, etc., whereas others are extremely vague and general. Your first order of business should be to discuss with your attorney the details of the order and what, if anything, your attorney knows about how the evaluator assigned to you usually works.
The evaluation is called "independent" because the court-appointed psychologist (or other mental health professional) is not working for one side or the other. He or she is the court’s expert, charged with the responsibility for advising the court about your children’s psychological and emotional needs, the resources offered by each parent to meet them, and how a custody or parenting time arrangement might best be devised to meet those needs.
The best evaluators are not primarily interested in a detailed public inspection of all of your personal strengths and weaknesses or deciding "which side is right" in all of your marital and post-marital conflicts. Their main concern is figuring out how to establish the best fit between your children at this point in their development and the various proposed custodial environments and arrangements.