In the best-case scenario of a divorce, parents agree to co-parent peacefully and create a shared custody schedule that’s workable for them and benefits the children. When divorcing or unmarried parents form their own custody agreement in Colorado, a judge will typically sign off on it. Sadly, not all parents can come to a fair agreement, or one parent may be adamant in their own custody demands or have valid reasons to wish to limit the other spouse’s parenting time. In other cases, one parent may try to seek full custody as a way of punishing their spouse for perceived wrongdoing. Whatever the circumstances that led to a divorce and the need for a judge to decide on child custody, part of the process of deciding parenting time in Colorado is a child custody evaluation.
Colorado family courts place the child’s best interests as their highest priority. A child custody evaluation helps a judge to assess what’s in the best interests of children in a divorce case.
What is a Colorado Child Custody Evaluation?
Family courts in Colorado appoint special Parental Responsibility Evaluators (PREs) to file a report of their findings after investigating disputed issues in a custody case and the individual circumstances of each parent’s care of their children. The evaluator will meet with each parent individually to gather information about how parental responsibilities are allocated within the family dynamic. The evaluator is typically a trained child counselor, therapist, or child psychologist with experience in child custody. Depending on the circumstances of the divorce case, a judge might choose the evaluator, parents could choose one from a list provided by the court, or a lawyer might recommend one they’ve worked with before.
If a parent has any concerns that the PRE chosen for their case is biased, it’s important to speak to their attorney about their concerns before the final report.
The Process of a Child Custody Evaluation in Colorado
When parents can’t agree on custody terms or one parent claims the other is “unfit” an impartial child custody evaluation offers the judge important insight into the family dynamics before making a decision. The elements of a custody evaluation for Colorado courts include:
An initial meeting with the PRE
An at-home visit to observe parent-child interactions
A series of psychological tests and a review of results with the evaluator
Interviews with family members and friends
Some evaluators perform the tests themselves, and others may set up an appointment with another professional for testing.
Discussing the test results with the evaluator is a good opportunity to ask questions about their observations. Parents should also listen carefully to suggestions for successful co-parenting and minimizing the negative impact of the divorce on the children.
What Recommendations Might Be In the Evaluator’s Report?
When a child custody evaluation is complete, the report is sent to both parents and the judge deciding the case. The report includes relevant findings, such as any impacts of parental issues like mental health problems or substance abuse as well as observances about each parent’s relationship with the children, the amount of caregiving time they enjoy with the children, and any other important insights. The report often includes recommendations such as:
Suggestions for custody, parenting time, and visitation
Recommendations for individual or family therapy
Information about dealing with both common conflicts and those unique to the family
In some cases, one or both parents may contest the report in court if they have indications of bias or if they can show that the conclusions don’t support the best interests of the children.
A judge isn’t required to make rulings based on the evaluator’s suggestions, but the child custody evaluation is an important tool used by judges to make parenting time decisions. If you need an experienced lawyer to help you through these difficult times, please contact us.