The more time a custody evaluator has to do his or her investigation, the more he or she will find out. Time and money constraints can influence how thorough the evaluation will be. If the services are low cost or free, they may not be as thorough or efficient as you had hoped.
If your custody evaluator is pressed for time, he or she should still, at least, visit the homes of you and your ex. Several visits to each home is the best gauge of how the children will fare with each parent. The visits should be both when the children are present, or when they are spending time with their other parent.
The evaluator should talk to the children’s teachers, doctors and anyone else who may have dealings with the child and the family. She should talk to day care providers as well. The intention isn’t to dig up dirt for either parent, although dirt can come to the surface. The purpose of the investigation is strictly to ascertain the condition of the children in these different settings, and to report problems, if any, which could weigh into the parent’s respective child rearing abilities.
If the kids are old enough, the evaluator may talk to them individually. The idea isn’t specifically to ask them their placement preferences. The child’s desire may not be based on healthy considerations. Their preferences could be based on who is least likely to pressure them to do homework or most likely to let them stay up as late as they want. Most children prefer a care taker who is more like Santa Claus than June Cleaver, even if June would be more interested in their health and welfare then winning their friendship and showing them a good time.
Kids can, however provide good information about their daily life activities. How they like school, what foods they prefer, and their relationships with their friends and other family members can be useful to someone trying to make an honest report to the court.
Unfortunately, the evaluator isn’t likely to be as thorough if the parents don’t have the resources to pay for a deeper report. Then, the investigator may satisfy himself with having the parents make a visit to his or her office, and thus may make the resulting report from very little sound information.
In the end, a mediator or custody counselor may be a better investment for parents who don’t agree where their kids should be after a divorce. If you and your spouse go that route, be prepared to be generous. Neither of you will come out of the situation with everything you want, but the more open you are to the other parent’s rights, the more likely it is that you will reach a custody agreement that is fair to you and your kids.