What Is a Custody Evaluation Report?

A custody evaluation report is a written report used in assessing a child’s situation in order to determine what is best for him or her. Parents and guardians are often the subject of these reports. Evaluators utilize a number of ways to determine who is in the best position to receive primary custody of the child.  

According to the American Psychological Association, growing up in a happy home where healthy marriages are practiced, is good for a couple. It is even more beneficial for their children when the parents set a good relationship example for them to follow. However, the norm is far from the ideal. In the United States, around 40-50% of married couples divorce. Furthermore, succeeding marriages often pose an even higher divorce rate.  

Key Players in a Custody Evaluation Report

Child: A minor child is often the unwilling victim in custody cases. The burden is imposed on the child or children; and it can be quite difficult for them to deal with custody and court proceedings. This is especially true for younger children. Without the proper guidance, the pressure and stress of a custody battle can manifest negatively in an emotional, mental, and even physical way. The purpose of a custody evaluation report is to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Parents: When a married couple decides to divorce, it not only affects the children and their respective families, but also can have a profound impact on each individual or parent as well. Some may handle it better, while others may struggle more than the other. People have different coping strategies and handle stressful situations in various ways. If both parents of a child are unable to agree or cannot settle things amicably, a court may mandate a custody evaluation report to help solve the problem. Mental Health Professional: A custody evaluation report is normally done by a mental health professional. It is usually a trained and licensed psychologist who employs various strategies to assess what is best for the child. These strategies include observation, multiple interviews, review of court documents and proceedings, etc.

Processes Involved in Custody Evaluation

There are several basic procedures in child custody evaluation. A psychologist is expected to produce an evaluation report as a final output. The mental health professional typically conducts the following processes to determine custody rights or recommendations.  

Interviews: The evaluator needs to be able to gather information from the main people involved, that is, the child and the parents. He or she may interview each parent separately, to get a better and full understanding of the situation. Minor children also need to be interviewed to gain insight into their family life from their point of view. Similar to a therapist during a counseling session, the interviewer may ask a series of questions then proceed to analyze and interpret the interviewee’s answers or information. Observations: An evaluator may also need to spend some time observing the interaction between the child and the parents, either together as a couple or separately with each parent. This is to determine the dynamic of the relationship the child has with either parent. Observations may be conducted in a professional setting, public place, or within the family home. For example, an evaluator may conclude from gathering observations that a child is more likely to open up to the father and both clearly exhibit a more solid bond when compared to the mother. Psychological Testing: Sometimes, a mental health professional may recommend psychological testing for either parent, or both of them. Testing may be one way of determining how sound or fit a parent’s mental and emotional state may be. The results of these tests may carry some weight in court and could give one parent an advantage over the other. There are cases where one parent suffers from addiction problems or mental health issues. Psychological testing may be submitted as evidence or grounds to prove a claim which can be admissible in court. Other Interviews: The evaluator may also reach out to other contacts of the family to establish or further substantiate his or her findings. Sometimes testimonies from the child’s teachers, babysitters, doctors, family friends, relatives, can be taken into account and included in the evaluation report. Review: A review of past court proceedings, decisions, and documents may also help in supplementing the custody evaluation report. A licensed evaluator needs to consider previous events during the course of the divorce. Court documents and legal proceedings can provide a substantial backdrop in which the custody evaluation can base significant data on.

Parts of a Custody Evaluation Report

Trained evaluators can either use standard forms or customize their reports according to their findings. The following examples are some of the usual components included in a custody evaluation report.  

Reason for Evaluation: What could be the reason or need for a custody evaluation in the first place? The report needs to state why a professional referral or an expert opinion is required. In most cases, the main reasons for needing an evaluation is because of the indecision or conflicting views of the parents. Sometimes, the couple fails to reach a compromise. One parent may disagree or insist the child be in their custody, but the other parent refuses to allow it. Family History: A mental health professional may take into consideration the history of the family, both the children and parents’ history. Learning the background of the family may help the court and evaluators piece together the puzzle and provide answers to questions. Things like living conditions, financial history, work experience, previous residences or neighborhoods lived in, family life of each parent, or even a history of abuse can be recorded in the evaluation report. Interview Transcripts: A major source of information are the interviews conducted with the key people involved in a custody case. Interview transcripts or a summary of the data obtained is key information that should be described in detail in the report. Strengths and Weakness of Parents: Another useful insight that may be incorporated in the evaluation report is a summation of the strengths and weaknesses of each parent. If the parents of a child are unable to agree on custody arrangements, an objective assessment of their parenting qualities may be helpful. Studying the parenting styles of each parent is crucial in coming to a sound decision that will help the evaluator conclude what is the best arrangement for the child. Parent-child Observation: In addition to the assessment of the parents as individuals, how a parent relates to his or her child is a compelling and significant sign. A licensed psychologist is trained to observe and interpret the relationship dynamics of both parents and child/children. Is one parent more affectionate towards the child or children? Or maybe a child may seem cold and distant to one parent compared to the other. It’s important to look for obvious and subtle clues that suggest how a parent relates and acts towards a child. Test Results: Mental health professionals or sometimes even the courts, may demand psychological testing to aid in their overall assessment of a parent’s mental, social, and emotional well-being. Some tests determine if a person is more inclined to show narcissistic or neurotic characteristics. Although these testing strategies are not always 100% accurate; they may paint a picture or help explain certain behaviors or traits of an individual. Recommendations: After consolidating all the data, an evaluator must document his or her recommendations regarding who is most fit to be awarded custody of the children. The report must also include notes and suggestions regarding visitation rights, time-sharing arrangements, family therapy, etc. Some evaluators see the need for individual or group counseling to address underlying family issues and conflict. They may also recommend that the family undergo a reevaluation in the future.

How to Create a Custody Evaluation Report

It is up to the evaluator to produce a comprehensive report. The substance and quality of the content will solely depend on the training and ability of the licensed professional. If you are tasked to create an evaluation report, make sure to follow these four basic steps: 

Step 1: Input the Basic Information 

Always start your evaluation report by stating the complete names of the parents, child or children, their addresses, and contact information. You may also include the dates of birth. Don’t forget to write the date and your own information as an evaluator.  

Step 2: Summarize the Data Gathered

Compile all your findings from the interviews, psychological testing, and observations. Make sure to organize your information in such a way that it can be generally understood by the average reader. You want to avoid overly technical and clinic terms. Keep in mind that the evaluation report may be used in a court of law. Legal and non-legal persons should be able to comprehend the report.   

Step 3: List Down the Recommendations

Obtaining data can take a number of weeks to complete; and the recommendations based on the data are an integral part of the overall output. An evaluator’s recommendations are necessary for authorities to reach an educated conclusion to determine what’s in the best interest of the child. It should answer the question as to who should get primary custody of the minor child. Possible outcomes may be that one parent gets sole custody, both have joint custody, or arrangements for visitation rights are created. All in all, the final report can carry considerable weight inside a court of law.       

Step 4:  Be Objective When Evaluating  

The last step is more of a reminder. It’s always advisable to keep a level-head and remain objective and professional throughout the course of the evaluation. The last thing you want is people accusing you of favoring one parent over the other. This may be possible if the evaluator is a friend or an acquaintance of a parent. Avoid bias when it comes to your findings and recommendations. If it’s your view that both parents equally deserve custody of the child, then state it as such in your report. Lawyers can contest an evaluator’s findings and recommendations, so be sure you conduct your process in a fair and thorough manner. 


How do you win a custody evaluation?

For parents, having to go through a custody evaluation can result in a lot of stress. The problem is that most parents believe they are in the ideal position to support and care for their child or children, and not their spouse. Bitter feuds and tensions may ensue and not only do the relationships suffer, but the child is often caught in the middle. This poses potential harm because it threatens their overall stability and well-being. To win a custody evaluation, parents must not only convince the evaluators of their capacity and financial stability to provide for the child; but they should exhibit genuine concern and emotional support for the child.

What happens in a custody evaluation?

A custody evaluation usually entails several tactics that mental health professionals use to determine what is best for a child. A couple going through a divorce may be at odds when it comes to the living arrangement of their child or children. A professional evaluator can be brought in, either by the court or by the parents themselves, to help settle the dispute. A custody evaluation report combines family interviews, actual observations, and psychological testing to establish what the right measures are to be taken regarding custody.

What is a family evaluation?

A family evaluation is when a trained professional, usually a psychologist, assesses the family life and background of a couple together with the children. He or she may interview the children, the parents, and other close associates, either separately or as a group. The purpose of a family evaluation is to paint a picture of the relationship dynamics in a home and to judge whether or not the current situation is beneficial or detrimental to a child’s welfare.

Unfortunately, divorce is more common than most people think. It can be a traumatic and painful experience for a family. Custody battles and heated court debates can severely impact the mental health and emotional well-being of both children and adults alike. Custody evaluations carry a lot of emotional weight. They are not easy to deal with because of how much is at stake, especially for the parties involved. However, custody evaluations are meant to help the family, despite the difficulties of having to go through one. Browse through the many sample templates available above and create your own custody evaluation report!