If you are involved in Utah divorce case in which child custody is an issue, you may wish to file a Motion for a Custody Evaluation. A custody evaluation has its benefits and disadvantages.
A custody evaluation involves having a custody evaluator (the specific person appointed will be either appointed on both parties’ approval or, if the parties cannot agree on an evaluator, by the choice of the court) come to your residence and your spouse’s residence (if you are living in separate residences at the time of the evaluation), and meet and talk with the parents and children for the purpose of evaluating each parent’s parental fitness and determining what kind of custody award to recommend to the court. The purpose of a custody evaluation is to assist the court to determine what custody award best suits the children (be it joint physical custody or sole physical custody).
The evaluator considers many factors, including (but not limited to) the parents’ respective living conditions, availability to care for the children personally rather than leave them in day care, parental bonds, ability to get the children to school on time, time a parent is or can be at home for the children when they return from school, etc. The evaluator will look at disciplinary styles and effectiveness, levels of cooperation between parents and more. For a list of factors the evaluator and court usually consider in child custody cases, click here (the link will take you to Rule 4-903 of the Utah Rules of Judicial Administration), click here (for a link to Utah Code §30-3-10 – Custody of children in case of separation or divorce — Custody consideration) and, for additional factors in consideration of joint physical custody, click here (for a link to Utah Code §30-3-10.2 – Joint custody order — Factors for court determination). If a custody evaluation is ordered, make sure your attorney helps you prepare for the custody evaluation, so you know what to expect.
The biggest advantage to a custody evaluation is—whether it should be or not—that it carries a lot of weight in court. While a judge may believe that sole custody should generally go to the mother as a rule of thumb, a judge is far more likely to be persuaded by an objective custody evaluator’s recommendations. Obviously, we cannot tell you that you are certain to win your desired custody award merely or even chiefly because of a custody evaluation (the custody evaluator may determine your spouse is the better choice of parent); however, the evaluator must provide to you and to the court his/her findings that lead to whatever conclusions and recommendations the evaluator makes.
Now for the disadvantages of a custody evaluation. Custody evaluations are costly and take up a lot of time. When we say costly, we mean that they usually cost between $7,000 and $10,000 dollars. I know, that’s ridiculous. The court may even order that you pay for the entire evaluation yourself, even if it’s your spouse who requested the evaluation (this usually arises if you make money than your spouse—not fair, but certainly not unheard of). If both spouses want a custody evaluation, the court may apportion the evaluation costs evenly between the parties. Sometimes the court apportions responsibility for costs according to income ratios. For example, if your spouse earns 1/5 of your income, your spouse would likely be ordered to pay for 1/5 of the custody evaluation and you’d pay for 4/5 of the evaluation costs.
As to the amount of time custody evaluations take, it’s typically 4-6 months (it can be longer or shorter, but 4 months is a good average). Why this takes so long we really don’t know. Other states don’t take this long in conducting evaluations, but then again, we cannot speak to the level of quality of such quicker evaluations.
There are alternatives to a custody evaluation, but we have not found any of them to be as effective or as well accepted by the courts as a custody evaluation. The court usually won’t place much stock in psychological evaluations, for example, and you may be wasting your time and resources if you pursue creative alternatives (we speak from experience here).
Finally, if your spouse seeks a custody evaluation, the court will almost certainly grant the motion
If you have any further questions, feel free to call our office: 801-466-9277.