In a family law case where conservatorship or possession (aka parenting time) of children is at issue, the custody evaluation or social study can make-it-or-break-it. I’ve often referred clients to the Separated Parenting Access & Resource Center website and specifically their Guide to the Parenting Evaluation Process. This guide provides insight, aimed at nonprimary parents, for all parts of the process, such as the initial interview, importance of documentation, psychological testing, parent/child joint session, use of collateral contacts, and other aspects of the process.
Some custody evaluations are performed by a social worker, maybe one employed by the county where the case is pending. These are often less-expensive than other versions of the evaluation. If the parties can afford it, the better option is to use a private professional to conduct the custody evaluation. A private professional can be a social worker that works in private industry. Or, if mental health issues are a contested topic in the case, another option is to use a forensic psychologist to conduct the custody evaluation so that psychological evaluations will be a part of the process. Often a court-appointed social study conducted by the county-paid workers will not involve a home study, whereas a private paid evaluation will.
The resulting report of the evaluation will be relied upon heavily by the judge and/or jury in deciding the conservatorship or possession issues. That’s not to say that you can’t challenge an evaluation that goes against you, but it does make your case more difficult.