If you find yourself embroiled in a custody dispute, remember that there are important tools that may put you in a stronger position, even if you are the non-custodial parent. Often people will go to Court and believe that if they bring their family members to testify, the Court will listen to them and award them custody of their children. While that may happen occasionally, there are certain steps you can take early in a custody case to increase your chances of success.
Many family law courts employ social workers who will conduct a Home Study or a Custody Investigation. One or both parties may request the Study and the Court will usually divide the cost. The investigator will speak with both parties, interview the children at issue, observe the children with both parties at their respective homes, run background checks on the interested parties and then make a recommendation to the Court regarding their opinion concerning the best interest of the child. This investigation can be particularly helpful if you believe there are issues at the other parent’s residence, however you do not have the evidence to support your suspicion.
If the Court does not employ a custody investigator, then you may still request that the Court to appoint a guardian ad litem or GAL. The GAL is a specially trained family law attorney who is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child or children. The GAL will conduct much of the same work/investigation that a custody investigator would ordinarily do, however they will go a step further. During the custody trial, the GAL will be able to testify concerning what he or she believes is in the best interest of the child (ie who the child should live with); and they may participate in the trial by cross examining all the witnesses presented by the parents. The recommendation of a GAL is a very powerful tool at trial.
If the mental health of either parent is at issue, the parties may request and the Court will order a party to submit to a psychological evaluation. The evaluation would be conducted by a local private psychologist. You should consult your attorney on who they recommended or have used previously. Typically, the party requesting the evaluation will have to pay for the initial cost which could range from $2,500 – $5,000.00. If the Court later determines that the evaluation was necessary to reveal significant mental health issues, then the Court will likely divide the cost of the evaluation.
These are just some of the tools at your disposal if you are involved in a custody case. It is important to contact an experienced local family law attorney early in your case to discuss these options.