Two common aspects of a parental rights and responsibilities case are child custody evaluations and mediation. These elements of a case usually come before the final hearing in front of a judge or magistrate where a determination will be made as to the outcome of the case.
A child custody evaluation is different than mediation in that the evaluation is done by a third party, often a mental health professional, guardian ad litem or social worker whose main purpose is to evaluate the overall circumstances and fitness of the parents involved in the parental rights and responsibilities case.
The evaluator will then submit a report of findings and in some cases recommendations on what should be decided in the case. It is important to know that in many cases, this report will weigh heavily on a judge or magistrate’s final ruling.
The reason for this is that the judge in a parental rights and responsibilities case does not ever get to know you and your situation nearly as well as an evaluator who has an opportunity to sit down with you, often in your own home, and really dig into your personal life.
The evaluator will look much deeper into your family circumstances, living situation, relationship with your child(ren), mental health indicators including signs of substance abuse and many other aspects of the details about you and the other parent than the court ever would have the time to.
Because of this reason it is very important to understand the potential impacts of these evaluations. They can drastically affect the overall outcome of any custody matter.
Mediation on the other hand, is the portion of a child custody or parental rights and responsibilities case where the parents are given the opportunity to sit down with a neutral third party and try to come to an agreement on the parenting plan so that the decision does not need to be left up to the court.
Generally the mediator’s soul responsibility is to try to facilitate open communication between the parties involved to try to be able to negotiate any child custody issues that are pending before the court.
In my experience, the mediator has no other involvement in the case and the only report submitted to the court explains whether the parents were able to come to an agreement or not.
The reason courts require this is because they realize that except for in extreme circumstances, it is in the best interest of all parties involved if the parents can come to a decision on the parenting or custody plan.
Even in extreme circumstances however, the court will often order mediation as a step in the case, hoping that it can still be resolved amongst the parents.
I have personally been involved in four mediations and all of them had different outcomes. In all but one of the mediations the mediator was completely neutral and really just a facilitator of the “negotiations”.
In the other mediation, the mediator actually took a fairly active role in explaining, from his experience since he was a family attorney for many years, what the outcome may be if we did not come to an agreement at the mediation.
I realize that some people may find this to lack in the supposed neutrality, but in this case it really helped both myself and the other parent to make a more informed decision about our case and which direction we wanted to go.
So that is a very brief breakdown of what these two important parts of many child custody or parental rights and responsibilities cases are.
The important thing to understand is that if you are facing one or both of these steps in your case, it is extremely helpful for you to be as informed and prepared as possible.
As I often say throughout this website, if you are going through any child custody or parental rights and responsibilities case it is very beneficial if not imperative to have the solid advice and counsel of a qualified family law attorney.
I have provided links on this site to where you can get help all the way from asking free questions to attorneys to getting quotes for full legal representations, and have even provided a list of legal aid available by state in the resources section.
Use these resources, they are very helpful and can offer what this site does not, which is access to attorneys who are qualified to give actual legal advice.
Another resource that I have found that can help prepare for an upcoming child custody evaluation or mediation is a guide called “Child Custody Evaluation & Mediation Preparation” written by:
Miguel Alvarez, Ph.D., QME, Clinical Psychologist
License # PSY 15506
Qualified Medical Evaluator (QME) No: 944988
Lori Love, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
License # PSY 15664
These two highly qualified clinical psychologists are very experienced in the processes of child custody evaluations and mediation and have developed this powerful guide to best prepare you for either or both of these sometimes overwhelming events.
The reviews on this guide are mixed but I found it to contain good information that definitely assists a person who is going through either of these things for the first in understanding how things work and what to be ready for.
This guide is a one time cost of $19.99 and for that price, I believe well worth the value when you compare that to the cost of a professional consultation. That being said, not to beat a dead horse here, legal consultation and representation is the best option.
Check out the resources pages on this site to get some great information on getting started with consulting and possibly retaining an attorney to help you prepare for all matters related to your upcoming parental rights and responsibilities case including child custody evaluations and mediation.
The important thing is to be as prepared as possible for every possibility so that you can ensure the best possible outcome for you and your children and yes, even the other parent. I hope some of the information in here helps.
As always, please feel free to leave questions or comments in the area below.