Last week we discussed what happens when a custody evaluation is ordered in a Family Court case. In contested cases where parents cannot agree about custody and/or visitation issues, judges may require that a psychologist sit down with everyone involved and determine what arrangement would serve the child's best interest. The following tips can help prepare you for handling a custody evaluation in South Carolina.
It can be very nerve-wracking to have a Guardian ad Litem or a child custody evaluator delve into your family and your parenting abilities. In fact, even good parents can feel like they've been placed under a microscope and may be afraid of saying or doing something that might send the wrong message. If a custody evaluator has been appointed in your case, the first thing you should do is take a deep breath and try to stay calm. After all, getting worked up won't make the evaluation go away.
Though it should go without saying, never coach your child on what to say to the evaluator. It's a terrible idea for a lot of reasons, the most important of which is that placing your child in the middle of a custody dispute can be incredibly damaging and leave them feeling torn between two parents they love. Children should always be shielded from the difficulties of the divorce as much as possible and never used as pawns. Secondly, coaching a child often backfires, as skilled custody evaluators are trained to detect for signs of parental meddling.
Next, be on your best behavior when around the evaluator. While no one should try to pretend to be someone they are not, it's important to make an effort to put your best face forward. That includes, at a minimum, always be on time to all appointments with the evaluator, make sure to be polite, and dress neatly. Though things like clothing are superficial, they do send a message, and you want your message to be a positive one.
Remember that the evaluator is looking for evidence of parenting skills, such as empathy, strong values, and an ability to set boundaries and make rules. Make sure that the answers you give touch on some of these issues and demonstrate your positive abilities as a parent. Resist the urge to become offended or defensive when the evaluator asks probing questions. Always stop and seriously consider what has been asked before answering, as shooting from the hip in this situation is not a good idea, because you can't later take back statements made in the heat of the moment.
Finally, make sure to have a list of people that you believe the evaluator should speak with as part of his investigation/evaluation prior to making his or her decision. Of course, your list should contain the correct contact information of people who know you well and who have had the opportunity to observe your parenting skills. A random collection of acquaintances with no real specific information will not be helpful and will only waste the evaluator's time (and therefore waste your money).