When divorcing couples are unable to agree upon a child custody arrangement or visitation schedule, Illinois courts are required by state law to determine a custody arrangement that takes into account the best interest of the child. In some cases, a child custody evaluation may be deemed necessary by a judge in order to provide professional opinions about what the ideal living arrangement would be.

Many parents facing a child custody evaluation may be nervous about the process, since the results can have life-altering consequences regarding how much time will be spent with a child. An evaluation is intended to gather enough information about a family for a mental health professional to make a recommendation for an appropriate parenting plan. By understanding what happens during an evaluation, parents can prepare themselves and their children.

Ordering the evaluation

A court order for an evaluation typically includes the time and location of the assessment, as well as a designation for an evaluator. Sometimes, a judge may assign an evaluator with no input from the parents, but in other cases there may be a choice of two or three evaluators for the parents to decide between. Evaluators are usually psychologists or psychiatrists and serve as neutral third parties in the proceedings. Parents can inquire about the experience of any evaluator to ensure that there are no biases or other issues that could affect the outcome of the evaluation.

Interviewing the family

In order to get a good feel for family dynamics, an evaluator will interview both parents, the child or children involved, other family members and any individuals that work closely with the family if it is necessary. In addition to the interviews, an evaluator may perform the following as part of the evaluation:

  • Observations of children with each parent
  • Psychological testing
  • Home visits
  • Reviews of pertinent court documents

Parents should expect to undergo at least two interviews, if not more, and will likely have to provide background information supporting their ability to successfully parent the child.

The report and recommendations

Upon completion of all interviews and necessary testing, the evaluator will create a report that provides guidance and recommendations for the courts for child custody and visitation arrangements. A high degree of weight is placed on an evaluation report, though a judge may still consider other options.

A child custody evaluation can be expensive, ranging anywhere from $2,000 up to $6,000, depending on the evaluator’s rates. In many divorce cases, it may be best to avoid the need for an evaluation, instead working with an attorney to mediate a custody arrangement that works for both parents.