Custody and Parenting Time Studies

Information for Attorneys

Custody and parenting time studies are among the most important responsibilities in my practice, as I feel it is my role in these studies to act as an advocate for the child(ren)’s needs. I utilize my knowledge of child development and family dynamics in general, together with the specific circumstances of each family, in order to develop recommendations which will serve the best interests of the child(ren). I have no a priori views of either parent being more or less important to the child(ren) by virtue of age or gender of the child(ren) or their parents. I do not do custody and parenting time studies that do not involve both parents, and it is important that both attorneys are communicating as well.

It is my preference to conduct such studies with the mutual agreement of the attorneys and the parties. I will request a copy of the signed court order regarding my performing the custody/ parenting time evaluation. A $4,000 retainer is required in advance to begin the evaluation and is due in my office before appointments can be made. The fees are charged at the hourly rate of $275 for the services of seeing the parties and the child(ren), reviewing written material, preparation of a report, telephone conferences with attorneys and contacts with ancillary parties. The deposit will likely cover my services until the time of testimony. I ask that whoever wishes to call me as a witness pay the fee for the testimony in advance or write a letter guaranteeing payment of such.

Your clients will be asked to sign an informed consent. I expect all of my communication with the attorneys to be done jointly. If any written information is provided to me, a copy should be provided to the other attorney. If there is an attorney appointed for the child(ren), there may be situations in which it is appropriate to communicate with that attorney separately from the other attorneys. If at some point an attorney calls me as a witness, then it is appropriate to have individual conversations.

I will contact a reasonable number of ancillary contacts such as neighbors, friends and teachers. I will also ask the parties to complete releases for any professional contacts they or the child(ren) have had in the past five years.

Typically I share the results of the evaluation via telephone conference call and written report. In my experience some opportunity for dialogue is helpful in understanding my recommendations. Generally, clients are not present for this meeting. Typically it takes six to eight weeks to complete an evaluation. Once the report is prepared, it should only be released on an as needed basis. The report may be helpful to other mental health professionals involved in the treatment of the family and may be provided to them. The report should never be shared with the children, verbally or otherwise, nor should it be shared with family members or relatives.

If your client becomes represented by another attorney, chooses to represent him/herself, or if your client moves, it is your client’s responsibility to inform me of the change in representation or whereabouts. If there has been a significant lapse of time between last seeing the parties and preparing a report or a significant lapse of time between preparing a report and appearing for court, I may request additional updates from each party.

Generally I do not schedule appointments for these updates, rather I request the parties submit a brief written summary of events that have transpired since last being seen in this office. I may ask for current releases for daycare, school, therapy, etc. to be signed as well.

Information for Parents

Philosophy and Procedure

The philosophy of this office in conducting custody/parenting time evaluations is that the children’s best interests are my primary concern. Both parents are viewed initially as being equally capable of being custodial parents. Children are seen as dependent beings and emotionally have needs for relationships with both parents. Children should not be involved in the decision making about custody/parenting time and will not be asked directly their parental preference.

Custody/parenting time evaluations are done in this office only with the full participation of all parties. The participation of all parties includes visits in the office and full disclosure of any other mental health contacts within the past five years. All attorney communication, written and verbal, is done jointly until the evaluation is completed and the results are relayed to the attorneys. At the time that one attorney states that he or she is calling me as a witness, it is appropriate to have individual conversations with the attorneys.

The visits in the office consist of structured interviews with each parent, parent-child interaction sessions, and structured interviews with the children. Formal psychological assessment is done by referral to a licensed psychologist. The need for such assessment will be determined on an individual basis. The fees are the individual prerogative of the psychologist.

I will also ask to review any previous evaluations and to review the course of previous therapy of either parent, the children, or marital therapy. I will be able to contact collateral parties such as school teachers after the parents sign releases. I will contact a reasonable number of non-professional collateral contacts such as friends and family members. When requesting that I contact such parties, please keep in mind that their opinions are evaluated in the context of their relationships with the parties and not at face value. We may contact law enforcement agencies for additional information.

I will relay the results of the evaluation to the parties jointly and/or to their attorneys jointly. Often a joint meeting of the parties, when appropriate, is helpful in promoting the best interests of the children and is more helpful than hearing the results from the attorneys in understanding my recommendations.

I ask that parents prepare their children only by saying that they will be seeing a “talking doctor” who will be helping the parents understand them better. When appropriate, the children may want to know that I have a playroom with toys, puppets, art supplies, Legos, etc. Parents should not say anything in preparation of what they want the children to tell me as I can usually detect such intervention and it is not in the children’s best interest nor in the parent’s best interest to do so.

The usual privileges regarding confidentiality in the doctor-client relationship do not exist when doing custody/parenting time evaluations, although I try to be responsible and selective in how and what information I share in relaying the report. I attempt to make my reporting of information less inflammatory than the process may be already. This is not always possible if! have learned information which I feel is critical to the well-being of the children.

Fee Considerations

The fees for the custody/parenting time evaluation are assessed at $275 per hour until the court appearance. A $4,000 deposit is required prior to the start of the evaluation. Fees for court appearances are assessed individually. The hourly rate is charged for the office visits, the consultation with attorneys, the written report if one is requested, and the time spent contacting ancillary parties and reviewing their information and depositions if requested. The deposit may vary according to the number of children and the complexity of the problem. Additional fees will be requested prior to testifying. When situations require extensive administrative time regarding unique difficulties, numerous phone calls, letter writing, and/or consultation with others, then there will be a charge for that time. If there is a decision from either parent to withdraw from the study, fees may be charged for administrative expenses incurred for the initial phase of the evaluation of not less than $275.