When Parents Cannot Agree: The Role of Parenting Evaluators

When parents are unable to decide on a parenting plan they can follow while they resolve the issues in their divorce, they must go to court and let a judge determine the temporary parenting plan.

One party initiates this process by making a motion for temporary orders.

Often each parent thinks he or she is the one best suited to be the primary parent. In these cases, the court needs help in determining the best plan for the children and appoints a mental health professional or an experienced family law lawyer to make a recommendation.

This person, the parenting evaluator, is trained in child development and in mental health issues. He or she may even be a professional counselor. The parenting evaluator uses the state’s guidelines to determine which parent best fits the role of primary parent according to the state laws.

The parenting evaluator interviews the father and the mother. Then the parenting evaluator talks to the children about their family life. The evaluator looks at the different ways a parent deals with a child. The evaluator often interviews other people who see the parents and children together, such as a day-care provider, grandparents, teachers, or neighbors. The parents usually have to answer a long list of questions as part of a parenting history survey.

The goal of this survey is to find out which parent has been fulfilling the role of primary parent as defined by the particular state statute and to make a recommendation to the court.

At the end of the evaluation, the parenting evaluator writes a report that sets out his or her findings. When the parenting evaluation is complete, a case can often be settled out of court, since the court pays close attention to, and usually follows the recommendations of the parenting evaluator.

Sometimes the parties disagree with the findings and opinion of the parenting evaluator and want to go to court. When this happens, the parties challenge the recommendation by questioning the parenting evaluator in court on cross-examination.

Once again, the parties must carefully consider the advisability of going to court rather than negotiating a temporary plan themselves with the assistance of their attorneys.

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