A parenting evaluation, or child custody evaluation, is an assessment done by a mental health professional with experience in family law matters. Either parent can request an evaluation, or the judge can order one without request. If you and your spouse disagree on who should get custody of the children, the judge in your Washington state divorce case may order parenting evaluations of both parties.
Parenting Evaluation Standards in Washington State
The purpose and standards of parenting evaluations are outlined in Title 246 of the Washington Administrative Code. Section 246-924-445 requires evaluators to consider the following factors when conducting parenting evaluations:
- Each parent's past and potential ability to perform parenting functions
- The needs and developmental levels of each child
- Relevant ethnic and cultural issues
- The nature, strength, and stability of each child's relationship with a parent
- The division of parenting responsibilities between the two parents
- The child's relationship with siblings and other adults in each household
- The child's involvement in academics or after-school activities
- Actions parents take to meet their child's daily physical and emotional needs
- Any voluntary agreements parents have made regarding the children
- The wishes of the parents and the wishes of children who are mature enough to express preferences on where they live
- Each parent's work schedule
Once the evaluation is over, the evaluator will submit a report to the court detailing the child’s relationship with each parent, the benefits and weaknesses of each home environment, and a recommendation for dividing time between parents.
How Can I Make My Best Case for My Washington State Custody During the Evaluation?
Your evaluator should focus all their recommendations on the child's best interest. You can present your best case by showing that you take all interactions with the evaluator seriously. Always arrive on time for meetings, dress appropriately, and come prepared with any documentation requested by the evaluator.
Above all, make sure you:
- Show how your actions benefit your child. The evaluator will be looking for ways that you make your child a priority in your life. Schedules, schooling, and other decisions should be weighted in favor of the child’s interests instead of your own.
- Choose your words carefully. It’s not just what you do but what you say that matters. The language you use to describe your children, spouse, and evaluator might go directly into the final report. Remember: the evaluator is neither your friend nor your enemy, so resist the urge to commiserate or speak negatively about anyone involved in the case.
- Avoid coaching. The evaluator will watch for intentional manipulation of the child to affect their relationship with the other parent, known as parental alienation. This can lead to a residential schedule favoring the alienated parent, so do not tell your child what to say during the evaluation.
- Be honest. Don’t lie or exaggerate when answering the evaluator’s questions, as it will permanently harm your credibility. The evaluator won’t expect a perfect parent, but one who can recognize their strengths and weaknesses.
- Speak with an attorney. The investigator’s report carries much weight in custody decisions. An experienced divorce attorney can help you understand the process and explain your options if the evaluation doesn’t go as planned.
What if I Don't Like the Results of a Parenting Evaluation?
You have legal options if you think the evaluator discriminated against you or gave the judge an inaccurate representation of your ability to function as a parent. You may need to call the custody evaluator as a witness to give testimony in your case or hire a second evaluator to dispute the findings. Your attorney can advise you on the best way to make your custody case in court.
Get Advice From a Washington State Divorce Attorney
At The Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we do everything we can to ease the stress of your divorce and help you move on with your life. Call us at 425-460-0550 for a personalized assessment of your case, or learn more in our free guide, 9 Urban Myths About Divorce That Can Hurt You.