Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations

Definition: Child 1 Custody Evaluation in these Guidelines refers to any service designed to affect a child's legal relationship with the biological, surrogate, foster, or adoptive parents, and/or any other legal guardian.

  1. The child's best psychological interests and well-being are always the primary concerns.
  2. Psychologists should be impartial and objective in conducting child custody evaluations. The psychologist typically should not have or have had any role with the child and parental figures other than child custody evaluator.
  3. The psychologist should provide a fair, non-biased assessment and should not necessarily endorse the perspective of the individual or agency/agencies that made the request for the evaluation, or would be paying for the services. This should be made clear to all involved parties at the outset. Ideally, the court should order the evaluation.
  4. Special knowledge and experience on the part of the psychologist for a child custody evaluation is essential. This should include child and family development; diversity in family living structure, culture and function; child abuse and neglect; the dynamics of divorce and its effect on children; court procedures; and legal options in custody.
  5. A variety of data is required in a child custody evaluation. The evaluation should incorporate information from all meaningful settings in the child's life, including, but not limited to, home and school. This information should include the recency and nature of the child's interactions with all parental figures and other significant individuals, the child's developmental needs, and the resulting fit.
  6. The psychologist should determine if other professionals are evaluating the child and make every effort to minimize redundant evaluation sessions, while conducting as many sessions as necessary to enable the psychologist to render a recommendation that can confidently be made in the best interest of the child.
  7. When any form of child abuse is reasonably suspected in the course of a custody evaluation, the psychologist is required to take steps to protect the child, including following the mandated reporting procedures.
  8. It is the responsibility of the psychologist to determine the scope of the evaluation based upon the child's best interest, even when a request may be made to evaluate only a specific aspect of child custody.
  9. The psychologist should obtain informed consent from adult participants and, as much as possible, from the child(ren). Prior to beginning the evaluation, all participants should be informed of the limits of confidentiality and the conditions of disclosure of information.
  10. When the psychologist makes custody recommendations, the psychologist's opinion should be limited to information derived from the integration of all available data.
  11. The report should be made in a timely manner.
  12. Financial arrangements should be clarified and agreed upon prior to commencing a child custody evaluation.

1 Children may be substituted for "child" throughout these Guidelines, although there are aspects of custody evaluations specific to evaluations of multiple children in a family that are not discussed here.

Last Updated: June 11, 2009