Are you going through a child custody dispute in court, or contemplating one?
If so, have you heard about a custody evaluation? if not, you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to this post.
Like many jurisdictions, Utah has a provision in its court rules for a person known as a custody evaluator to be appointed in a divorce or other kind of child custody case when there is a dispute between the parents over what the child custody and parent-time1 schedules should be.
Utah’s rule governing custody evaluations is found in the Utah Code of Judicial Administration, Rule 4-903. Now, I’m not going to talk about everything in Rule 4-903 in this post, instead I’m going to talk about recent changes made to the rule that become effective November 1st, 2022.
First, the good changes to rule 4-903:
The revised rule 4-903 includes a new provision (subparagraph 2), which reads as follows: (2) Custody evaluations shall be ordered only when a party requests it or when the court makes specific findings that extraordinary circumstances exist that warrant an evaluation. In either case, before appointing a custody evaluator, the court must find that the parties have a present ability to pay for the evaluation.
It is high time that this change be made to the custody of valuator rule, rule 4- 903. Custody evaluations are currently often knee jerk reactions by courts that don’t want to wrestle with the custody evaluation question and who prefer to outsource it to a custody evaluator. And oftentimes requests for custody evaluations are made by malicious parents where there is no need for a custody evaluation, but the request was made for the purpose of burdening the other parent with the costs of the evaluation. The new subparagraph 2 won’t totally eradicate these abuses of the custody evaluator, but they should make them harder to perpetrate.
Now for the bad changes to rule 4-903:
The revised rule 4-903 subparagraph (6) now contains all kinds of new education and training requirements that sound great, but likely won’t do much to improve the quality of custody evaluations. Specifically, the revised rule 4-903 requires that
“Child custody evaluators shall gain and maintain specialized knowledge and training in a wide range of topics specifically related to child custody work. Evaluators shall gain broad knowledge of family dynamics. Since research and laws pertaining to the field of divorce or separation and child custody are continually changing and advancing, child custody evaluators shall secure ongoing specialized training and education.”
Effectively, what this means is that custody evaluators must now spend more time in a bunch of mediocre, boring, check the box style training courses that they have to pay for and that they will pass the costs of along to the parents. this will only make it harder to become a custody evaluator, which will cause fewer mental health professionals to want to go to the trouble of becoming and remaining qualified to be a custody evaluator, and make custody evaluations likely more time consuming and more expensive.
The new rule 4-903 also now requires that custody evaluators cannot accept appointment as custody evaluators unless they have completed 18 hours of education and training within the past two years, coinciding with the professional’s licensure reporting deadlines, which must include all the following topics:
(A) The psychological and developmental needs of children, especially as those needs relate to decisions about child custody and parent-time;
(B) Family dynamics, including, but not limited to, parent-child relationships, blended families, and extended family relationships; and
(C) The effects of separation, divorce, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, child physical or emotional abuse or neglect, substance abuse, and interparental conflict on the psychological and developmental needs of children and adults.
The revised rule 4-903 also provides that “Evaluators having conducted fewer than three (3) evaluations shall consult with another professional who meets the education, experience, and training requirements of this rule, sufficient to review, instruct, and comment on the entire evaluation process.”
Remember, this new rule does not go into effect until November 1st 2022, even more importantly, remember that a custody evaluation is not required in every child custody dispute, and is in my opinion rarely, if ever, a good idea. More on that in a future blog post about custody evaluation alternatives.