Do's and Don'ts for Custody Evaluation Interviews
I think as lawyers, we always want to tell our clients the do's and don'ts for Custody Evaluations. These items may seem like common sense to the lawyers, but they aren't always common sense to the clients.
Interviews are just one of the many aspects of a custody evaluation. When being evaluated, parties will be required to provide significant information in many different forms. For instance, you will be interviewed and observed. You may be asked to provide a timeline and collaterals.
This article is only going to focus on the interview. This is not an all inclusive list. If I were to meet with you, I would go more in depth on these items and more. You want to present the very best YOU possible. You are currently in a very difficult situation and that sometimes causes you to act and react differently than you normally would. You want the evaluator to see the best of
The interview will likely last between one and two hours.
1. Do be on time. Or better yet, be 10 minutes early. This is especially important when the other parent complains about you being late all the time. If you are late the evaluator may very well put that information in the report.
2. Do plan on spending at least two hours with the evaluator. That means make sure the appointment is at such a time that you don't have to run and pick up your child(ren). Also feel free to ask the evaluator or his/her staff how long you should plan for. If they say an hour, plan on two, just to be safe and so you don't feel rushed.
3. Do be rested and alert. You are going to be spending a significant amount of time answering questions and telling your story. It is important to be rested and alert during this time.
4. Do be well groomed. You should look like you are going on a job interview or going to church. Being well-groomed means you have showered and are free of body odor. It means your hair is brushed or combed. If you wear make-up, don't overdue it.
5. If you have tattoos or significant piercings, do your best to cover them and or take them out. I know, it's not fair. This is not the time to make a stand on the principles of free speech or body art. Everyone has some prejudices, you don't know if your evaluator thinks tattoos are trashy but what if they do? Nowadays it probably isn't an issue, but it could be.
NOW TO THE MEAT OF THE INTERVIEW
6. Do be prepared with a timeline. The timeline should focus on events that are important in the custody evaluation. For instance, if there are allegations of domestic violence, have a timeline of all domestic violence that occurred. Start from the first instance of name calling or pushing and provide dates (approximate dates are okay too) of the events. If there are allegations of substance abuse, make sure you have a timeline of significant events, DUIs, rehab, fights, etc. Very important, if you are attempting to show someone has a personality disorder, review the traits associated with that personality disorder and timeline any events that substantiate your thoughts/claims/allegations of personality disorder. For instance if a trait involves disregard for the law, any theft, dui, assault, etc would be relevant.
Go over this timeline with your attorney or a consultant to make sure it is focused.
7. Do be focused. Your ex may have been the most horrible spouse in the world, but how does that affect your child? If your spouse had an affair, how does that affect his/her parenting? If it doesn't, do not bring it up. It will make you sound like you are bitter and angry. Remember, the evaluator is going to focus on what is in the best interest of the child.
8. Do listen to the questions you are being asked. You should have a list of your information ready, so you don't need to think of that while the evaluator is speaking. Really listen. You may be able to pick up on some subtle cues.
9. Do answer the question directly. If you are asked about how your ex was with the child when you were together, give specific examples of areas of concern. For example, don't say, "He/She was always high and could never be bothered with little Billy". Give specific examples, "He/She was high one time and passed out on the couch and little billy climbed on the kitchen counter to get a drink and fell with the glass and was cut. I came home and little Billy was sitting in blood crying and he/she did not even wake up. When I woke him/her he/she acted like I was blowing everything out of proportion. Little Billy required 3 stitches".
10. Do ask the evaluator if there is anything he/she needs from you and/or if there is anyone he/she would like to speak with. For instance if you had a friend over who witnessed little Billy bleeding and crying and your ex not caring, that would be a good witness. Also anyone who has witnessed any physical abuse or substance abuse.
11. Do be kind. The evaluators will be evaluating everything you do. If your ex calls you a jerk, don't confirm it by being a jerk. Suck it up for the interview.
12. Prepare to say something positive about the other party. The evaluators will often ask you to state good and bad points about the other parent. Don't be dramatic about this - if she is a great cook, say she's a great cook. If he is super handy around the house, say he is super handy around the house. They may ask something specific about parenting. If he/she is good at comforting the child, say that. If he/she is good at playing with the child, say that. Don't go on and on about how amazing the other parent is - just give one or two things and don't make it seem like a struggle to come up with unless the other parent is truly a horrific parent.
1. Don't be late. I know, that's the same as number one above, that's how important it is. I've seen reports where the evaluator says one parent is concerned about the other parent always being late and that the kids noticed and she was late picking up the children. Being late for the appointment validates the other's parent's concern.
2. Don't reschedule unless it is an emergency. By emergency I mean you are in the hospital or a car accident. Remember, this is when you should be on your best behavior. Don't flake out on an appointment. This is your opportunity to show the evaluator that you are reliable, so be reliable.
3. Don't put down the other party. Only give facts. Let the evaluator make his/her conclusion based on the important facts you provide.
4. Don't be a know-it-all. The court has appointed an expert to do an evaluation. Don't act like you know everything. See above, listen to questions and answer them.
5. Don't send excessive information to the evaluator. Ask for a list of what they would like. If you think there is something important, ask the evalautor if you may send it.
6. Don't be overly emotional. I know this is a really difficult time you. Really bad stuff may have happened. But you don't want to look like an emotional wreck. Shedding a few tears is fine. But don't break down sobbing. You want to show you are emotional and care but you don't want to seem like a basket case.