New Jersey Child Custody Evaluations Explained
Bergen County NJ Child Custody Attorney Assisting Parents in Hackensack and Surrounding Communities
Child custody disputes often occur between parents, whether they are married or unmarried. When such disputes arise between parents without a compromise in sight, it is necessary to retain a custody evaluator to provide an objective recommendation as to which parent should have either legal (decision making authority regarding education, religious upbringing and medical needs), and/or residential custody of the children born of the relationship between the parents. The purpose of a custody evaluation is to determine what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. Both the mother and the father have a right to retain their own forensic custody expert or they can agree on a joint forensic custody expert. The Court also has a right to appoint their own forensic custody expert.
What is a Child Custody Evaluator?
Custody evaluators are professional therapists that have mental health-related backgrounds and training. They typically work with families who are going through a dissolution, write custody-related reports and testify in Court regarding their evaluative process and written reports, if and when necessary. While most of these therapists specialize in custody evaluations, they often have a therapy practice as well. Like attorneys, these evaluators work on an hourly fee basis and usually request a retainer before performing their services.
Regardless of which party retains the expert, that expert under the New Jersey Rules of Court is obligated to conduct a strictly non-partisan evaluation to arrive at a neutral recommendation as to the child’s best interests. A Court-appointed experts’ findings cannot be favored over those of the parties’ individual or joint experts.
The Child Custody Evaluation Process in NJ
The child custody evaluation process could take up to several months to complete, depending upon the evaluator’s schedule and his/her access to the parties as well as the parties’ children. Custody experts often meet or speak on the phone with “collateral contacts,” which are individuals that are outside the immediate family, such as grandparents, medical providers, therapists, tutors, teachers and neighbors. Custody experts also review relevant documentation that is provided by the parties or their attorneys.
When the evaluation process has been completed, the Custody expert will submit a detailed report that will provide family history, a summary of his/her findings and recommendations as to what custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child or children of that relationship. The recommendations will not only include the specific legal and residential custody arrangement but will also include a suggested parenting time (visitation) schedule for the non-custodial parent and any therapeutic measures that should be taken to ensure the best interest of the child is protected.
What if Child Custody Experts Disagree?
If more than one custody expert is retained in a case, it is not uncommon for the experts to differ as to their findings and recommendations. Some couples can resolve their custody disputes using custody expert reports. Others proceed to trial. At a trial, custody experts will have to testify as to the findings in their reports and will be subject to cross-examination. Family Court judges typically give great weight to the reports provided by the evaluators because they are a neutral investigate that family’s dynamic.
In cases with one custody expert, a Court may follow the recommendations of that one expert verbatim. In cases involving two experts, the court will have to decide as to which custody expert was more credible or convincing before making a custody determination. Judges typically consider custody expert recommendations but are not bound to adopt them 100% as part of their ruling. If you take your child custody case to trial, it is essential to have an experienced New Jersey child custody attorney on your side.
Contact a Hackensack NJ Child Custody Evaluation Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
If you have questions about a child custody evaluation or are currently involved in a custody dispute in New Jersey, contact the Elfant Rickett Law Firm for the answers you need now. We understand that each and every case in unique, which is why we take the time to learn about your specific custody situation and devise a strategy to best position you for the arrangement you are seeking. To schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable child custody lawyer who can help you successfully navigate the child custody evaluation process in Bergen County or elsewhere in New Jersey, contact our office in Hackensack at (201)-968-5700 or send us an email.