I recently had the opportunity to speak at a Conference given by the New Jersey Association for Justice about Child Custody Evaluations in New Jersey.
Child custody evaluations are conducted by mental health experts in cases where the parties cannot agree on which parent should have custody.
New Jersey Court Rule 5:3-3(b) requires that the expert be “strictly non-partisan.” In other words, the expert cannot favor one parent over the other, even if the expert is retained by that parent.
Following the evaluation, the expert makes recommendations to the New Jersey Family Court judge about how the custody dispute should be resolved.
Although those recommendations are not binding on the court, they are extremely important.
Therefore, it is surprising that many clients are not properly prepared by their lawyers before participating in the child custody evaluation.
Whenever it appears that child custody may be an issue, I advise my client of the criteria which will be used to resolve that issue. Those criteria are contained in a New Jersey statute (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4c) and may be viewed by clicking on this link to my law firm’s website. Obviously, knowledge of the “ground rules” improves a client’s chances of persuading the expert that his/her child custody proposal is in the best interests of the child(ren).
Once a child custody evaluation has been scheduled, I also provide my client with an extensive list of “do’s and don’ts” for the Evaluation. A small sampling includes:
- Be completely honest. The expert will speak to others about your statements, and you do not want your credibility to be called into question.
- Most experts will administer psychological tests, which are also designed to detect defensiveness and lies. Do not give an answer because you think that it makes you look better. Again, be completely honest.
- Listen to the questions you are being asked, and answer them directly. However, if you not understand a question, say so and ask the expert to explain what it means.
- The principal focus of the evaluation is the children. Try to show the expert that your focus is on their interests rather than your own.
- Say anything negative about the other parent, except as needed if the expert asks you why you think that the other parent’s child custody proposal is not in the child(ren’s) best interests.
- Try to get the child(ren) to say negative things about the other parent. The expert has ways of finding out if this happens.
- Go to see the expert without an appointment or make unnecessary phone calls to the expert.
- Be worried about appearing nervous or stressed. It’s natural, and you should let the expert know how you feel.
Under no circumstances should you begin a child custody evaluation without being first being completely prepared by knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel.
Salvaggio Law Group devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters, including those in which child custody has been a significant issue. If you want to talk, please call us at 973-447-4981 or fill out the Contact Form on our firm’s website.