If you are ordered into a custody evaluation, make it work for you and your children.
True confessions: The custody evaluator is not your confident and not your counselor. Do not play true confessions. You may be proud of overcoming adversity in your past. But your uncle’s arrest for child molesting, your parent’s alcoholism, your period of depression, your arrest for drugs as a teenager is not going to help you; it’s going to hurt you. This is not the time to air your dirty laundry or family secrets. Convey the healthy aspects of your childhood and adolescence.
3 character flaws: You may be very organized and have compiled quite a dossier of documentary evidence against your ex. Choose the 3 worst characteristics about your ex to reveal to the custody evaluator. Don’t overwhelm them with your ex’s faults (drug addict, alcoholic, anger management, workaholic, shopaholic, gambler, porn addict, sex addict, disorganized or unemotional). If you give the evaluator an extensive list of your ex’s faults, it says you have poor judgment seeking mates or that you are bitter so choose only 3 bad characteristics. Remember not to stress unfaithfulness; a lousy spouse is not synonymous with poor parenting.
3 incidents: Choose the 3 worst incidents of poor parenting committed by your ex to disclose to the custody evaluator (explosive behavior at exchange of custody, DWI, drug use, corporal punishment of your child, denied visitation, impaired while in custody, missed visitation, detox, delinquent step-children). If you give the evaluator an endless list of incidents, it makes you appear hyper-critical or compulsive.
Good offense: The best defense, is a good offense. If you know your spouse will be telling a story about you in an unfavorable light, bring it up before they have a chance so that you have an opportunity to diffuse it. A good evaluator will not include inflammatory information about either party without giving both parties an opportunity to address the information. But who says you have a good evaluator?
Spin: You are selling yourself as the best parent to raise the kids, just as good at it as your ex at raising children, or not needing supervised visitation. This is like a job interview for parenting. Make eye contact, be cheerful, smile, be well-groomed and dress casually but neatly and age appropriately. Do not take any pain medication or alcohol prior to your appointment. Stress your good parenting skills and reasonableness. Tell the evaluator no more than 3 anecdotes of good times spent with your children (family vacation, birthday party, laughing hysterically with your child at a stupid movie or coaching your child’s team)..
Punctuality: It’s advantageous to be the first parent seen. Make your appointment immediately, pay the evaluator promptly and if you have to reschedule, do so quickly. Failure to pay or complete the evaluation promptly will be reported to the Judge as uncooperative or contemptuous. Get to your appointments on time.
Binder: Put together a binder of materials and present it to your attorney for review and submission to the custody evaluator. Your attorney can then add any pertinent pleadings from your case. The binder can include any emails, text messages, calendars, rap sheets, facebook pages, photos of the kids’ rooms at your home, the back yard or complex playground, newspaper articles, family wizard messages, photographs, medical records, sponsor notebook, pharmacy records, drug tests or other documents that are pertinent to custody or visitation.
Calendars: Keep a calendar from the moment the relationship sours until your youngest child graduates from high school. Judges are middle aged and wear reading glasses, so make it kitchen calendar size. Do not fill it to capacity with mouse size handwriting. Keep it simple. What’s important is whose house your child slept at each night, who took your child to the doctor, dentist, tutoring, soccer, karate, dance, gymnastics, who attended parent/teacher conferences, the school play, Christmas recitals, when trips were taken by you or your ex, when your ex was arrested, late for exchange, forgot your child’s allergist appointment and the like.
Substances: If you are on pain pills, get off. If you have abused illegal substances or prescription medication without a prescription, get off. Get a hair cut, buy detoxifying shampoo and urine wash. You could be ordered into a drug test at any time.
Expungement: If you have been arrested in the past, have your attorney file for expungement immediately.
Be informed: If you have to, write down your children’s birthdays, school names, grades, pediatrician, dentist, counselor and tutor and keep it in your wallet to bring to the evaluator, your attorney and to court.
Keep your cool: You may have one or more meetings with the evaluator with your ex. Don’t let him/her push your buttons. Control your temper.
Family togetherness: Stress the healthy relationship your child has with your new mate, half-siblings, step-siblings. But be careful to walk the narrow line of not portraying your new mate as trying to supplant your ex. Your child has only one Mommy and one Daddy.
Let go: You may secretly still want a reconciliation. Keep that to yourself because your spouse does not. If you convey this to the evaluator, you will be viewed as out-of-touch with reality, a stalker or religious zealot. Your evaluator is a mental health professional, not a minister and not likely to be conservative politically.