The Utah Fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Utah State Bar Family Law Section 18th annual seminar took place this weekend at the Utah State Bar. Valerie Hale, Ph.D. and Heather Walker, Ph.D, discussed some seminal alternatives to the traditional custody evaluation.
A comprehensive custody evaluation may become necessary in highly contested custody cases such as cases in which there are significant differences in facts or positions of the parties, where the parties' communication is tantamount to non-existent and/or where there are issues of domestic violence, child maltreatment, alienation or other issues touching on the parenting capacity of both parents.
However, comprehensive custody evaluations are just that - comprehensive. Practically, they are very expensive and take a considerable amount of time to finally receive the evaluation. For example, a child custody evaluation for 2 parents and 2 children with formal evaluation reports costs approximately $10,000.00.
Often parents are having a tough time working out a custody arrangement and have moderate differences in facts and/or positions, communication is restricted and can escalate into conflict, and there are mild allegations of maltreatment such that parents truly could use the assistance of a neutral third party trained and skilled in performing the tasks of performing custody evaluations, yet not needing or wanting to make the investment of time, money and energy a custody evaluation necessitates. These options can help resolve issues of parenting capacity, fitness of a parent, and ability of parents to co-parent.
There are now some options to allow parents to have the benefit of gaining the recommendation and insight of an expert opinion in the form of a parenting consultation, a limited family assessment, a brief focused assessment, or even a mediation based custody/visitation consultation, or MBCC. These options can be as low as $750.00 per person for a MBCC or $1500.00 to $2000.00 for a limited family assessment. Likewise, a limited family assessment can usually be done within 3 to 4 weeks and 2 to 3 weeks for an MBCC. The MBCC is not discoverable so the parties can be more relaxed and free to say and explore options without fear of potential ramifications in the event it does not work and and the parties end up doing it the hard way in litigation. Even if the MBCC does not work out and the parties end up in court, they are at least walking away with outlines of potential stipulated settlement and education regarding their positions.
Keep in mind that you cannot have a full blown custody evaluation without a full blown custody evaluation much like you cannot have heart surgery without having surgery. As Dr. Valerie Hale pointed out at the seminar, these options are more like a doctor listening to your heart with a stethoscope and asking you questions about your health and lifestyle and saying "Yep, you're doomed" or "Sounds great!"
In the difficult situation of facing divorce and trying to resolve custody and time share of your children, it is nice to have several different options and avenues available to assist in the difficult decisions and negotiations that custody issues entail.