If your child custody or divorce case has a child custody evaluator assigned to it, then in nearly all circumstances, interviews will take place between the evaluator and your family, including your children.
This is an opportunity for the evaluator to learn more about the children’s impressions of what is going on with their lives so that the judge may become aware of the circumstances a little better. Ultimately, the judge is concerned with making decisions that are in the children's best interests and not what is in your or your opposing party’s best interests.
At the outset of this blog post, a word of advice would be to avoid coaching your children to provide certain responses to questions to attempt to sway the evaluator. For one, the evaluator is an experienced interviewer and, as a result, is adept at keying in on a lie.
Secondly, children are not good at reciting stories or recalling information that you previously told them. They may be able to remember the three things you told them to say on a particular subject, but it is unlikely that he or she will be able to understand why he or she should say those things or even the order to say them. Ultimately your attempts to coach may backfire against you.
I advise clients to approach these interviews with their children like they would anything else in life. Be truthful, don’t be worried about what is being asked, and always remember that you and their other parent will always love them no matter what is said. That’s about it. Ideally, your child should be as free of anxiety as possible before one of these interviews, and confirm your love and put their fears to rest is a good way to start.
Children typically are not asked outcome-determinative questions
One part of the interview process that I believe should be shared is that the custody evaluator does not typically ask children questions about where he or she wants to live from my experience.
Like most things in their lives, children have opinions and feelings about which parent they would care to live with. Depending on their age, these feelings may have the backing of actual circumstances and facts that have shaped that opinion. Their opinion can change weekly for younger children based on which parent bought them McDonald's most recently.
However, evaluators can tell a child's feelings towards a parent even in situations where seemingly harmless questions are asked. If the child is asked to draw a picture of their family and the picture shows you or the other parent at a distance away from the child, that can be telling in and of itself.
This isn’t anything that you can prepare the child for necessarily. Helping your children to be as comfortable as possible is the best and essentially the only way to prepare a child to be interviewed under these circumstances.
Ensuring that the evaluator has all the information he/she needs to conduct interviews
It is possible to lose track of all of the items you are responsible for in your divorce. Not only do you have a full-fledged legal case to help organize, but your family responsibilities don’t just go away during this same time period. It may be the last item on your “to-do” list to ensure that the child custody evaluator has all the information he or she needs to conduct interviews and complete their evaluation.
Just as your attorney asked you at the beginning of your case, he or she would be well served to remind you now that providing information to the people working on your case with you is one of the most important responsibilities you have a party.
There are only so many hours in the day and only so much of an opportunity to conduct in-depth interviews. The documentation that you provide to the evaluator should be fully complete and allow him or her to learn as much background about you and your family as possible.
The questionnaire will likely ask you to describe your children, habits, personalities, and interests. How well do they do in school? What do they struggle with?
Other questions will likely delve into their routine and who typically pick them up from school and help them with homework and other responsibilities. If you or the other parent work during the day or have irregular hours, the evaluator may like to know who will attend sporting events, dance recitals, or other extracurricular activities. Essentially, you need to honestly state which parent is involved in certain areas of your children’s lives and to what degree.
Finally, the evaluator will ask “skeletons in the closet” type questions. Likely, your attorney has already asked you to answer these sorts of questions, so nothing should come as a surprise to your attorney.
If you have any criminal record, or if your opposing party does, it is a common question to ask. What’s more- if you have battled an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or any other substance is a question that will need to be answered honestly.
It is no use to tell half-truths or outright lies if it is discovered that you have attempted to hide information that will be worse than the consequences of fully admitting a chemical dependency when given the opportunity.
Child Custody Evaluations are not easy- finding strong representation can be
Choosing to hire the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, to represent you in a divorce or child custody case can simplify, streamline, and create peace of mind in your life. While no family law case is easy for you or your family, our office strives to provide the sort of advocacy that allows our clients to achieve their goals.
For a free of charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys, please do not hesitate to contact our office today. We represent clients across southeast Texas and would be honored to do the same for you and your family.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child custody lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our child custody lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custody cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.