The Custody or Parental Evaluation Process
The following describes the steps and the purposes of the procedures that are involved in this evaluation process. I also discuss several critical policies that I follow in conducting my practice. I provide this information so that you know what to expect as you decide to have an evaluation done, and as you prepare for and go through this process. This evaluation follows a structured pattern to maximize the fairness and the objectivity of the assessment, and to work toward the best interests of your child or children. I will not discuss details or factors of the evaluation outside of the clinical interviews. If further details arise between interviews, or if you remember things you would like me to consider, please submit the material in writing to me.
What is the purpose of the custody evaluation?
The custody evaluation is an assessment of you and your relationship with your child. The evaluation focuses on the best needs of your child or children. It is not an investigation of your allegations against the other party in this matter.
What is the first step?
The first step of this process is for each side to agree to the evaluation. I do not proceed
until I receive a copy of either a court order appointing me as an 11-706 expert or a stipulated agreement from your attorneys
What is next?
Next, I send you a cover letter and 2 documents. The first is the Service Agreement that you and I will review and sign at our first session. The second document is CUSTODY FAQS: The Custody or Parenting Evaluation Process, describing the steps in the process.
What about payment?
Payment for this evaluation is made in advance of my beginning any work. The amount of the retainer is listed in the cover letter. Please send the payment to the above address. At the end of each month, I send the attorneys a status report on each party’s progress in the process or lack of compliance. If it happens that, based on the monthly progress, one party believes that the other party is non-compliant, the Court may be asked to terminate my role and issue a divorce decree. If this happens, or if the parties decide that they will not pursue this evaluation once I have done any work, I will return the initial payment, less a fee for the services, contacts, and information processing done to that date. I process requests for return of the remaining retainer at the end of each month.
What happens after payment is received?
Once the retainer is paid, then I mail the Parenting History Survey. We can schedule the first appointment after I have received the completed Survey.
What happens at the first appointment?
The first clinical interview appointment will be scheduled after each party returns the Parenting History Survey. I will review the Service Agreement with you at the first session.
How much time should I budget for the first appointment?
The first clinical interview will require a 4-hour block of time. I will schedule each party on a separate day. I schedule these interviews between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm; in special circumstances, I can offer evening and weekend appointments. Please do not bring your children or anyone else to your interview. Please do not schedule this appointment unless you can come alone and spend the whole 4 hours.
What if I do not comply?
If at any of these points you decide not to comply with an element of this process (payment, completion of the questionnaires, interview), I will stop the process. I contact the attorneys and await word from them about whether or not to reinitiate the process. All parties must agree to any modifications in this process. If we cannot agree on a modification, I send a statement of impasse to the Court and await a decision from the judge about whether the evaluation should proceed.
What about any records that you may need?
At the first appointment, you should bring any written documents you think would be relevant to the allegations that you are raising. Please highlight the segments of the documents that you think are noteworthy. Do not include documents or statements from people who have not observed firsthand parenting behavior or alarming behavior that might affect parenting.
Over the course of the evaluation, each party will be asked to produce records that we identify during the first interview. These records might include police incident reports, criminal history reports, juvenile court records, mental health records, medical records, school attendance and grade reports, achievement and standardized testing records, social services agency records, and psychological and educational testing reports. Once each party has offered permission to access records, that party is to provide the release of information to the agency and ask the agency to mail unredacted records directly to me. Each party has 4 weeks in which to obtain all of the records and get them to me. At the end of 4 weeks, I will contact both lawyers informally if there is a delay in producing the records. If either party still fails to produce the records, then the evaluation is stopped, and I submit a declaration of noncompliance to the Court. The evaluation will not resume until the records are provided. Sometimes, this is a point at which the parties decide to end the evaluation, or one party petitions the Court to terminate my involvement and request a divorce decree.
What kind of release do I sign that allows you to obtain information?
I will provide you with the release forms needed for this evaluation. Any alteration of these forms will result in a declaration of non-compliance.
What happens at the first clinical interview?
In the first part of the clinical interview, you and I will go over the Service Agreement,
review any questions you may have, and sign it together. I can answer questions about the Service Agreement from you or you attorney, but I do not modify any of its provisions. Please do not schedule the first appointment if you cannot agree to the Service Agreement. If you do not understand, agree to, and sign the Service Agreement, then I will stop the interview. As above, I contact the attorneys and await word from them about whether or not to reinitiate the process.
In the second part of the clinical interview, I will begin the psychosocial interview. Next, you will start the psychological testing. Usually, we need to schedule a second appointment. At that time, I will review with you a form that asks you to list the allegations and concerns you may have about the other party’s parenting or caretaking. I will help you describe a significant allegation as an example of how to fill out these forms. I request that you complete these forms for each allegation so that there are three (3) specific examples of each allegation. There will be 1 week in which to return the completed allegation forms. If either party delays in completing the forms, then both lawyers will be informed about the delay. If either party fails to comply, then the evaluation is stopped, I submit a declaration of noncompliance to both lawyers, and I do not resume the evaluation until the forms are returned or I am notified that the evaluation is not going to proceed.
The final step in the interview focuses on collateral resources. I will request that you sign releases of information so that I can obtain relevant records and contact third-party individuals who may be able to help with the evaluation. It is most likely that only collaterals who can provide first hand information about the allegations or about parenting strengths or weaknesses will be contacted. These are usually professionals who have observed your child or your child and one of the parties in the course of providing a service, such as teachers, therapists, or physicians. I decide which contacts need to be contacted. If you request that a nonprofessional collateral be contacted, then that individual must be able to submit a firsthand witness report of parenting behavior or other behavior that could affect parenting. The interview ends with the scheduling of a parent-child observation in your home.
What happens at the home visit?
The home visit is a session that allows me to observe the children in a safe and comfortable setting. In special circumstances, we can do this at my office, or at a restaurant or community access facility. I will instruct you “to be prepared to play with the children” for about an hour. Each parent gets a home visit. There may be special circumstances that influence this observation such, such as allegations of violence or trauma. Each situation shall be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If there are special circumstances, I will work
with the parties to resolve the issue in the child’s best interests. Unless I am otherwise directed by a Court order, I will make the final decision about the parent-child observation.
Although I will interview each child in your family, it is important for you to understand that, typically, young children are not interviewed individually about their preferences for placement or visitation. This is to protect the child from feeling responsible for any outcome associated with the evaluation. Similarly, older children and adolescents are not questioned about their preferences unless there is a compelling reason.
What about evaluating significant others?
If a party has a new life partner who is involved with the children, then that new partner will be required to take the psychological testing. It may be that there is someone else in the house who functions as a parent or a caretaker. I will decide whether or not any additional people need to be included for additional testing or interviewing.
What happens to those allegations?
Each party gets to respond in writing to the other party’s allegations. You have 2 weeks to respond in writing with your comments. I will include these comments as your own in the final report.
What about the information from the collateral contacts?
I will prepare a draft of the report before I make the collateral contacts. This is so that the collaterals are used to support or disconfirm allegations, and so that they do not unduly influence the objectivity and the balance of the report. I will note in my final report the products of the collateral interviews.
How long does all this take?
After I receive all requested documents and information, I review all of the documents and all the other data. At this point, I request the second half of my fee. Once the fee is paid, I prepare 2 reports that I send to the attorneys. You should not expect these reports less than 8 weeks from the date of the initial clinical interview of the second party who contacts me. At this point, all contact (phone calls, emails, faxes, letters) between the parties and me must now go through the attorneys. This is to prevent a charge that I have given one party more opportunity than the other party to respond to the report.
What are the 2 reports?
The first is the Family Evaluation that summarizes the data obtained and the conclusions drawn about the family and the child or children’s needs. The second is A Recommended Parenting Plan that outlines in detail what is recommended to the Court with regard to legal custody, time sharing, parental communication, future dispute resolution, and other issues specific to the family's situation. Please note that my recommendations never address property settlement or child support.
How do the parties contest elements of the report or the findings?
The parties and their attorneys may comment in writing on the elements of the reports they find objectionable. I incorporate these comments into a revised report, noting the objections. I will note misstatements of obvious facts (birthdays, anniversaries, ages, etc.) in an “amendments” section to the report. I will also note the elements that each party objects to.
Are there any additional meetings?
This varies in each evaluation. I always offer to schedule a meeting to go over the report with both attorneys and the guardian ad litem, if one is appointed. The parties do not attend this meeting. At this meeting, the lawyers can ask questions about the recommendations in the report. I do not have this meeting unless the lawyers from both sides agree to attend. I will not schedule an individual meeting with only one lawyer or one side unless both parties agree to such a meeting. Sometimes, both sides accept the report as written and there is no need for a meeting. Sometimes, after this meeting, there are additional questions that arise about the report. If I believe that an individual question can be answered without compromising my neutrality, I will go ahead and discuss it with the attorney who is calling. If I think there is a substantial concern, I will request either a conference call or another meeting with both attorneys.
I prefer not to discuss questions about the report over the phone with an attorney whose client is sitting in the attorney’s office, listening to the phone call, with or without my knowledge.
At this point, the parties will either agree to the findings and recommendations in my report, or they will decide to move forward with more litigation. If I am to serve as an expert witness and participate in interrogatories, depositions, or trial testimony, then I will contact all parties with a written estimate of my fees, and I will require a retainer before I provide any additional services.
What if I want an individual session with you to go over the results?
After the Court makes its decision, you can set up an individual session with me to review the results of the Family Evaluation and the Recommended Parenting Plan . This can be an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and your parenting strengths and challenges. This session is billed separately and is additional to your flat fee that covered the evaluation.
This is subject to revision at anytime. Dr. Kenney will give you the most up to date revision to sign when you meet.
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