Custody/Parenting Time Evaluations
Minnesota courts often prefer that contested parenting disputes be resolved through forms of alternative dispute resolution. Parents can have significant disagreements about what will serve the best interests of their children. When a parenting time dispute is involved, a third-party neutral can help to diffuse the overall conflict to help parents reach agreement. One option (an option that courts often require) is turning to a neutral evaluator to investigate and make recommendations to the court.
The lawyers at Lutter Gilbert & Kvas, LLC, in Dakota County have decades of experience in family law, with a clear focus on resolving child custody and parenting time problems. Our law firm works with families throughout Minnesota serving as qualified evaluators to focus on the best interests of the children.
Family Law Evaluations, Recommendations, Decision Making
In both custody evaluations and parenting time evaluations, the evaluator is an impartial neutral, and is not on the “side” of either parent. The evaluator makes decisions and recommendations about child custody which represent the best interests of the child.
“Joint legal—Sole Physical” and “Joint Legal–Joint Physical:” Custody terms can be complicated and are often a source of conflict between parents. Parents want what is best for their children, but when they cannot agree to the terms of child custody, a custody evaluation is often necessary.
At LGK, the Custody Evaluation process is performed by a Rule 114 neutral who is either court-appointed or retained privately by the parents. The evaluator investigates the family’s situation and then makes recommendations to the court. The evaluator looks at what is in the best interests of the child or children to make these recommendations.
The LGK custody evaluator takes a holistic view of each family’s particular situation. As no two families have the same circumstances, no two custody evaluations will be exactly the same. The custody evaluation will have two parts:
- “Investigation Stage” where the custody evaluator gathers information from parents and other individuals; and
- “Report Stage” where the custody evaluator shares the conclusions and recommendations with the parents, attorneys, and court. The “Report” can be made orally in a conference with the parents and their attorneys, and through a written report which is filed with the court.
The information gathering process generally includes:
- Interview each parent.
- Observation of the children with each parent, generally meeting in the home of each parent
- Interviews or conversations with “professionals,” like teachers or school counselors, day care providers, doctors or nurses, and therapists for the children or the parents, or other individuals who know about the family’s situation
- Interviews or conversations with nonprofessionals references, like family members or close friends, who have direct knowledge about the family’s situation
- Review of documents such as court files, school records, criminal records, or medical records which may shed light on the family’s situation.
A custody evaluation is not a confidential process; any information provided to the custody evaluator may be included in the written report or in court testimony.
The process of gathering all of that information, considering the law and facts and making a decision for a recommendation may take several months or longer, depending on the particular family’s situation. Likewise, the cost for custody evaluations depends on the amount of facts and sources that must be gathered. There is a fee for the investigation and oral report to the parents. If a written report is required, additional fees are required. If the evaluator is needed to be a witness in court, further fees will be required.
Parenting Time Evaluations
A parenting time evaluation is very similar to a custody evaluation, but it is limited to the issue of the parenting time for each parent. This evaluation is used when parents have agreed about the labels of custody, but have not agreed about the parenting schedule for the family to follow. The evaluator looks to the best interest of the children to make recommendations.