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An Open Letter to Parents Facing Child Custody Litigation:

Advice From A Custody Evaluator

For a pdf of this article, click here

© Vicky Campagna, PhD

drvicky@rcn.com

(650)368-8318

 

            The anxiety of the child custody litigant is all too easily understood: here you are, an individual who is already likely coping with an acrimonious divorce, now facing what can seem like a terrifying prospect: the reduction or even complete loss of custody of your children.  It's easy enough to empathize with you, all right, and it’s equally true that working  through all the many details of divorce litigation can be a challenge for anyone! How do you stay focused enough to deal with the problems immediately at hand and then also, with your upcoming custody evaluation?

            Here are 6 suggestions that you may find useful during this difficult time:

1)     Always remember  that the evaluator’s top concern is coming up with a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children.  That goal trumps almost any other point: if Mom or Dad  has a close, loving & supportive relationship with the kids, it’s not going to matter to me, the evaluator, if his/her home isn’t decorated like Martha Stewart’s., or if she never finished high school, or if she doesn’t get along with her neighbor.  This is not to say that those things are not part of an evaluation, just that they pale in importance to the relationship between the parents and the children.

2)     Try your hardest to adopt a cooperative, conciliatory attitude.  One of the most disturbing red flags to an evaluator is someone who is unable to consider alternate points of view, or to weigh the merits of possible custodial plans, or who can find absolutely nothing positive whatsoever to say about his/her ex.

3)     Please be reassured that the gender of the custodial parent is not a predetermined outcome.  Neither is income level or educational background.  What we evaluators are looking for is the best fit between parent and child when it comes to custody.  Dads can parent their daughters, Moms can provide a solid home base even if their income isn’t as much as their ex’s.  Someone who only went through the 11th grade might have better parenting skills than someone with a Ph.D!  The key point is that evaluators do not use a “cookie cutter/one size fits all” approach when coming up with a custody recommendation.

4)     Come up with a rational list of concerns about custody.  For example, are you concerned because your ex-wife allows the kids to eat whatever they wanted to, rather than insisting on a balanced diet?  Are you concerned because your ex-husband can’t read well enough to help with basic homework tasks?  The idea here is not to come up with a litany of complaints; it is the idea to help the evaluator be aware of any issues that are relevant but which might not be immediately obvious in the short time in which an evaluation is completed.

5)     Be aware of the importance of collateral sources that support your position.  Now, this does not mean your client’s mother or best friend!  What we evaluators want is objective, unbiased information.  People like the child’s teacher, Scout leader, softball coach, pediatrician, etc.  are ideal.  You should urge these people to speak candidly about their personal knowledge (i.e. that which they have themselves seen or heard, not information---also known as "gossip"---that they may have picked up from others.

6)     This is critical: please know that you do not have to look like a “perfect” person/parent!  Custody litigants often think they have to deny any mistakes or faults.  To the contrary, this tactic makes people look like they have no insight, are defensive, and cannot learn from mistakes!  And trying to look perfect on a psychological test is particularly hazardous:  these tests have unobtrusive ways to detect this kind of faking, which signifies a lack of honesty on the part of the test-taker.

If you still feel too anxious to be able to present yourself effectively, it may be appropriate for an in-person consultation with an evaluator prior to the actual evaluation.  Obviously, this cannot be with the neutral, court-appointed evaluator; it will have to be with someone else who is unconnected to the case in any way.  I offer such a service:  As an experienced child custody evaluator, I can explain to you what to expect, how to present your case most effectively, and help eliminate apprehension of the ‘unknown.’  This service is not coaching: I do not give test answers or facilitate deception.  What I do is familiarize you with the custody evaluation process, give feedback on how their approach might appear to an evaluator, and encourage a clear  & forceful presentation of their position, always focused on the BIC.  Most cases can be prepared in 3visits or less. 

 

 

 

 

 
Vicky Campagna, LMFT, PhD
165 Arch St.,
Redwood City CA 94062
Phone: 650-368-8318
Fax: 650-679-9378