Even if a child custody evaluation is merely possible in your case, you should start your preparation right away. The preparation process is not something you can do in an afternoon or a weekend. It takes methodical and long-term commitment to work on yourself as an individual and a parent. If you are going through a tough divorce and carrying a heavy emotional burden, you must start early in the case to unpack those heavy emotional bags. Child custody evaluation is not a place for therapy. It is not about you and your needs. Emotional work must be done by you long before you meet with the evaluator.
It is a really good idea to start individual therapy to process the hurts from your failed marriage. Some people start writing in journals to help them reflect on themselves and their mistakes. Meditation is particularly helpful way to find yourself again and emerge from the mud of a nasty marriage and in turn nasty divorce. Meditation also helps you get connected to your breath. Remembering to breathe is essential as you go through any state of your divorce but particularly when you sit facing the evaluator. The breathe will have a calming effect and open pathways to self-discovery. It is vital that you give yourself time while doing some self improvement and letting go work. It should start long before the evaluation starts.
So, there are some do's and don'ts of an evaluation.
1) Stay focused on the needs of the child rather than your issues with your ex
2) Be open to various custody/visitation plans even though you prefer a particular one but be ready to explain why you prefer what you prefer
3) Be honest
4) Be ready to discuss the weaknesses/strengths of your ex as a parent
5) Be ready to discuss your own weaknesses/strengths as a parent
6) Be ready to discuss your relationship history without being overly angry, sad, emotional
7) Be attentive to your child during the observation period
8) Understand that your child/children need the following:
a) Your children have the right to love both parents and to have access to each parent without interference.
b) All children benefit from an absence of conflict between their parents. Children do better if parents cooperate and work together.
c) Children need to be safe, secure and protected from physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
d) Children of different ages have different needs. Two-year old children do not need the same parenting arrangements as 12-year-old children. The custody evaluator will consider your children’s specific needs as well as their adjustment to home, school and their social environment.
e) Children need continuity. Parenting schedules should be followed so that children can depend on and look forward to time with each parent.
f) Children do best when parents support a relationship with the other parent. Don’t ask your children to choose between you and the other parent.
9) If evaluator gives any conclusions, stay calm
1) Do not be vindictive/overly critical of your ex
2) Do not focus on your relationship issues
3) Do not expect the evaluator to solve your issues
4) Do not ask the evaluator to be your therapist
5) Do not say negative things about your ex
6) Do not try to manipulate the evaluator
7) Do not cry, shout, become angry (if strong emotions come up, breath and be present)
8) Do not exhibit negative attitudes:
• Failing to recognize any positive qualities in the other parent
• Claiming that the other parent can do little or nothing to repair the damage
• Lack of perspective on the client's own role in the conflict
• Perceiving no room for improvement by the other parent
9) Do not dwell on the past if the issue has been resolved (ex. do not discuss ex’s alcoholism if ex stopped drinking)
10) Do not react too emotionally if evaluator expresses favoritism (or says something outrageous)