Custody Evaluation


Purpose of a Custody Evaluation

A custody evaluation provides the court with information it can use to make decisions about custody and parent-time. This is done by evaluating the parties' ability to parent, the developmental, emotional, and physical needs of the child, and the "fit" between each party and child. Unless otherwise specified in the order appointing the custody evaluator, the evaluator will consider and respond to the following factors:

  • the child's preference;
  • the benefit of keeping siblings together;
  • the strength of the child's bond with the parties;
  • continuing previously determined custody arrangements in which the child is happy and well adjusted;
  • the parties' character, status and their capacity and willingness to function as parents, including:
    • moral character and emotional stability;
    • duration and depth of desire for custody;
    • ability to provide personal rather than surrogate care;
    • significant impairment of ability to function as a parent through drug abuse, excessive drinking or other causes;
    • reasons for having relinquished custody in the past;
    • religious compatibility with the child;
    • kinship, including in extraordinary circumstances stepparent status;
    • financial condition; and
    • evidence of abuse of the subject child, another child, or spouse; and
  • any other factors deemed important by the evaluator, the parties, or the court.

Custody Evaluation Process

The parties may each hire their own custody evaluator, but the evaluator's report must still meet the requirements of Rule 4-903 and must be in substantially the same form as the court-approved form.

The parties may also ask the court to appoint an evaluator. The court will appoint someone to conduct an impartial evaluation and submit a written report. If one of the parties resides outside Utah, the court may appoint two evaluators. If the court appoints two evaluators, the court will designate one as the primary evaluator. The evaluators may submit only one joint report, and they must confer before the evaluation starts. The out-of-state evaluator must meet the minimum qualifications and follow the standards and procedures required by Rule 4-903.

To ask the court to appoint a custody evaluator, file a motion. For more information and forms, see our webpage on Motions. If both parties agree on who the custody evaluator should be, how the expense is to be divided, and what factors are to be considered, file the motion with a stipulation. If the parties do not agree, the motion might be opposed. The motion or stipulation must include:

  • the name, address, and telephone number of each evaluator nominated, or the evaluator agreed upon;
  • the anticipated dates that the evaluation will start and will be finished and the estimated cost; and
  • the factors to be addressed. (For a list of possible factors, see Purpose of a custody evaluation, above.)

If the court grants the motion, the court will:

  • appoint a custody evaluator,
  • apportion payment of the evaluator's fees among the parties,
  • specify dates that the evaluation will start and will be finished,
  • specify the factors to be addressed, and
  • require the parties to cooperate with the evaluator.

Within five business days after gathering the needed information—and without preparing a full, written report—the evaluator will prepare a "Settlement Conference Report" (For a sample, see the Forms section, below.) and notify the court, counsel (including a guardian ad litem if one has been appointed by the court) and parties of the need to schedule a settlement conference. Within 45 days after that notice, the parties or their lawyers must schedule a settlement conference with the court and the evaluator so the evaluator may give a verbal report.

The purpose of the settlement conference is to:

  • reduce the time and expense of preparing a full, written report in cases in which one is not needed;
  • disclose the evaluation findings in a way that is less adversarial and less damaging to family relationships;
  • allow the parties the opportunity to participate in fashioning an agreement; and
  • allow the parties to benefit from the insights of the evaluator while still controlling decisions about their children.

The evaluator will verbally present conclusions and make recommendations if requested by the commissioner or judge. The commissioner or judge will decide any restrictions on what the children are told about the findings and by whom, and restrict distribution of the "Settlement Conference Report."

If any party wants a full, written report, the party must notify the evaluator. If no settlement is reached at or soon after the settlement conference, the evaluator will prepare a full, written report, and the court will set a date for a pre-trial conference. If the evaluator writes a full report, the report must follow the pattern of the "Table of Contents" form in the Forms section, below.


Minimum Qualifications to be a Custody Evaluator

"Custody evaluator" is not a separate, licensed profession. Under Rule 4-903 to be a custody evaluator, one must first be a

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker, master's degree,
  • Psychologist,
  • Psychiatrist, or
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, masters level,

all of which are licensed by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, also known as DOPL. Someone with an equivalent license in another state may also do custody evaluations.

If there are areas of concern in which the evaluator does not possess the necessary education or experience, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, or mental illness, the evaluator must consult with someone who has the necessary education or experience.

If psychological testing is part of the evaluation, the tests must be conducted by a licensed psychologist who is trained in their use, and who adheres to the ethical standards for the use and interpretation of psychological tests.


Complaints About Custody Evaluators

Custody evaluators do not work for the courts; neither are they supervised by the courts. They are private professionals who are regulated and licensed by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. "Custody evaluator" is not a separate, licensed profession. Rather in order to be a custody evaluator, one must first be a

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker, master's degree,
  • Psychologist,
  • Psychiatrist, or
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, masters level,

all of which are licensed by DOPL. To report a claim of unprofessional or unethical conduct by a custody evaluator, you must file the claim with DOPL. For more information and forms, see the DOPL webpage Filing a Complaint (dopl.utah.gov). The complaint form asks for the profession of the person about whom you are complaining. You may enter "custody evaluator" or, if you know it, the profession (Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, Psychiatrists, or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) that enables the person to be a custody evaluator.

If a custody evaluator is licensed in a state other than Utah, you will have to file your complaint with the regulatory agency of that state.


Forms


Related Information


Page Last Modified: 11/20/2014
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