When parents are unable to come to an agreement on their own about child custody arrangements, the court must make the decision for them. Child custody evaluators and child advocates help the judge make crucial decisions about parenting time or child custody. The judge must call upon his or her knowledge of Maryland law, as well as their experience and assessment of the situations at hand, and balance all of the relevant factors with what is in the best interest of the child. In some cases when custody is contested and there is a contentious dispute, the court may order a custody evaluation and assessment, which will help them come to an appropriate solution with regard to parenting time.
Child custody evaluators: neutral court representatives
If the judge decides that a custody evaluation is necessary, they will order it at the family law scheduling conference. The purpose of the scheduling conference is to discuss all issues pertaining to your matter, including temporary support and visitation, and to schedule any pre-trial events.
Child custody evaluators often have backgrounds in social work, and have knowledge of child development and mental health. They also receive special training in conducting child custody evaluations. In Anne Arundel County, the evaluator, who acts as a neutral representative of the court, does the following background work in an effort to determine what is in the best interests of the child:
- Interviews the parents together;
- Interviews the parents individually;
- Interviews the child;
- Observes how each parent interacts with the child; and
- Talks with family members, neighbors, employers, mental health providers and reviews appropriate records.
Using this information, the child custody evaluator prepares a written report, which may include a custody recommendation. They may also testify at trial.
Advocates for the child
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a legal representative for the child during the court proceedings. A GAL has the authority given to them by the court to conduct investigations, gather evidence and make recommendations to the court based on their findings.
GALs can be attorneys with family law experience, or individuals with child advocacy training and experience. Depending on the jurisdiction, child custody evaluators and guardians ad litem are paid by the parties, but in some counties, the court will cover the cost of the custody evaluator if they order their services.
Sometimes, in the heat of the dispute, parents can lose sight of what the child needs and how to make decisions based on what the child needs as opposed to fighting for the outcome that they want. Your Maryland family law attorney will advise you on the best course of action based on your situation.
Are you a parent who is going through a divorce, and have concerns about how custody of your child is being handled? An experienced and compassionate Annapolis family law attorney at Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, P.A. is here to protect your interests, answer your questions and offer legal advice about your custody case. We invite you to call 410.921.2422, or to contact us to schedule a consultation today.