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Custody Evaluations

Custody evaluations are used when the parents cannot agree on an appropriate custody and/or parenting arrangement.

Custody evaluations are performed by either a private evaluator or by the evaluators hired by the County in which the case is filed. There can be a large difference between a private evaluator and one performed by court services. You should speak with your attorney about these differences.

All custody evaluations will review the 13 best interest factors set forth below:

  • The wishes of the child's parents as to custody
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if of sufficient age;
  • Who is the child's primary caretaker;
  • The relationship among each parent and child;
  • The interaction of the child with parents and siblings;
  • The child's adjustment to home and school;
  • Length of time a child has resided in a stable environment;
  • Permanence of the family unit;
  • The mental and physical abilities of all involved;
  • Capacity and disposition to offer the child love, affection, and guidance;
  • The child's cultural background;
  • Effect that domestic abuse has had; and
  • Disposition of the parent to encourage continuing communication with the other.

The evaluators may also require psychological testing as part of the assessment of the parents and children. The evaluator will also talk to collateral witnesses such as teachers, daycare providers and counselors for the parents and children.

Guardian Ad Litem

The guardian is expected to perform an independent review of the case. They are expected to advocate for the child and monitor the child's best interest throughout the case, including participating in appropriate aspects of the case. Guardians are expected to prepare a written report for the court and to provide a factual basis for their opinion.

By law, a guardian ad litem may be appointed in cases with contested custody and parenting time issues to advise the court regarding custody and parenting time.

A guardian ad litem must be appointed if the court believes that the child is a victim of domestic abuse and/or child neglect.

Joint and Sole Custody

Sole custody is where one parent has the exclusive authority over decisions or where the children primarily reside.

Joint custody is a decision to share parenting of the children. It does not have to be 50/50 custody to be labeled joint custody.

Parenting Consultant

Parenting Consultants assist parents in addressing their problems in communication regarding their children, establishing and modifying parenting plans and more. Typically the parenting consultant will work with the parents to mediate disputed issues. If mediation fails the parenting consultant is given the authority to arbitrate and make the final determination of what will occur.

Parenting consultants are a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Their role is not provided for by statute. The cost of the parenting consultant is typically paid by both parties equally but a different arrangement can be arranged by the parents.

Parenting Plans

The use of a Parenting Plan is voluntary to the parents. It may also be ordered by the Court, unless there is domestic abuse or it is a paternity case.

A parenting plan must specify a schedule of time that each parent will spend with the child. There must also be a designation of decision-making responsibilities regarding the children. These two factors replace the traditional legal and physical custody designations. The parenting plan may substitute other terms for legal and physical custody (e.g. residential time or access)

In addition, there must be a stated method by which parenting disputes will be resolved (e.g. mediation or parenting consultant).

Parents may include other issues regarding the child in their parenting plans, such as what will happen if there is a move by one or both parents.

Parenting Time

The term visitation is no longer used in legal proceedings. The term has been replaced by the term "parenting time" or “access time”.

Parenting Time Expeditor

A parenting time expeditor is an individual who provides assistance to parents by enforcing, interpreting, clarifying and addressing circumstances not specifically addressed by an existing parenting time order. If necessary the parenting time expeditor (PTE) can determine when an existing parenting time order has been violated.

The laws governing the obligations and duties of the parenting time expeditor are set forth under the law at 518.1751.

Generally, the parenting time expeditor is advised by each parent regarding the issue and then the PTE will make a determination of what will take place or whether the order was violated.

Physical and Legal Custody

Physical Custody is where the children live on a day-to-day basis.

Legal Custody is the decision-making process by which choices are made regarding religious upbringing, medical care providers, elective medical procedures, schools, and to an extent extracurricular activities among other issues.

 
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