There are few issues as emotional and stressful as that of child custody and visitation. While every child custody case is focused solely on the best interests of the child, the overall process of deciding how much time a child gets to spend with each parent can be heart-wrenching. While many parents may feel like it is in the child’s best interest to obtain the majority of time spent with the child, under Florida policy, courts will generally find that the best arrangement is one in which both parents get equal time with the child. Sometimes, however, parents may not agree on how much time would be in the best interests of the child, and may not agree to a time-sharing plan. In these cases, a parental responsibility evaluation can be used to get a better picture of the surrounding factors of each party.
What is a Parental Responsibility Evaluation?
A parental responsibility evaluation (PRE), also known as a custody evaluation, is an evaluation performed by a court-appointed third party, usually a psychologist. Even though either one of the parties to a divorce or the court may request a PRE, the psychologist evaluating the parents will act as a neutral third-party evaluator in order to help the court resolve a custody dispute. During the PRE, the psychologist will interview the child, the parents, and anyone else that the parents feel would be helpful. As a result, anyone who has had contact with the child, such as a daycare provider, family friend, or even an employer may be interviewed during a PRE.
While no two PREs are the same due to the specific factors of each case, the typical PRE contains a breadth of information, including, but not limited to:
- A summary report of each parent’s views and beliefs regarding the strengths and weaknesses of their own parenting, as well as that of the other parent;
- Summaries of statements from witnesses, such as physicians, family friends, or teachers;
- Summaries of information learned through interviews with the child or children;
- The psychologist’s recommendations for carrying out the parenting plan; and
- Guidelines that address any special topics or concerns, such as domestic violence or substance abuse.
How to Prepare
Working with a psychologist during a PRE can be a stressful prospect for some people, including children. Fortunately, there are some ways that you can prepare yourself and your children to better work with the court-appointed psychologist.
Some children may be nervous or anxious about talking to a psychologist. One of the best ways to help a child prepare for an interview during a PRE is to explain what will happen during the evaluation. While you do want to encourage your child to be honest, it is important to avoid “coaching” your child on how to answer. In addition, you should make sure that your child understands that how they answer will not change how you feel about them. In addition, it is important to remind your child that, even though the psychologist will be interested in what the child thinks, the child will not be asked to choose between parents, and he or she will not be the one to decide how much time each parent gets to spend with the child.
Children are not the only ones who may be concerned about meeting with a psychologist. Even though the evaluation can be a stressful prospect, there are several things you can do to help provide the court with a clear picture of your situation. A few things you can do in order to help you with any stress that may arise include:
- Getting enough sleep before the day of the interview;
- Rearranging your schedule to provide enough time to get to the psychologist’s office;
- Organizing documents that may be necessary for the psychologist to review;
- Writing down any questions you might have beforehand to avoid forgetting them during the evaluation;
- Dressing appropriately, but comfortably;
- Make sure to answer only what the question asks, and avoid speaking negatively about your ex-spouse;
- Keeping in mind that the evaluator may ask for additional documents or may ask to schedule a test in order to get a better idea of what decision would be in the best interests of the child; and
- Avoiding being defensive when answering question.
While people’s feelings may vary regarding the initial interview of the PRE, it is important to remember that, at the end of the day, any custody decision will be based on the best interests of the child.
Disagreement With the PRE
While the evaluator in a PRE will be a neutral third party, there are times when a parent may disagree with the outcome of the evaluation. Even though the court may use the results of a PRE to make a final decision regarding the parenting plan, the decision will not be based solely on the results of the evaluation. In addition, there are other reports and evaluations that can be requested or performed in order to provide the court with a clearer picture of the surrounding facts. If you do ultimately disagree with the PRE, however, it is important to avoid using testimonies from your friends or families to refute the evaluation. While the evaluator is seen as a neutral third party by the court, friends or family members will have a clear bias in court. Ultimately, the best thing you can do if you disagree with a result or evaluation is to talk to your attorney about any available options.