A Closer Look Into Custody Evaluations: What is a Guardian ad Litem? The DRCB?

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When a court is faced with custody and parenting time issues, it may seek advice from outside sources. Due to the lack of time the parties have in front of the judge and the high volume of information in custody cases, the courts rely on these outside sources to investigate the case for them. Either parent can request a custody evaluation or the court may order one on its own initiative. There are different types of custody evaluators, but each will investigate a case, report their information back to the court, and make recommendations on custody and parenting time matters. All evaluations have one goal in common: the best interests of the children.

Three types of custody evaluators will be examined here: 1) Guardian ad Litem; 2) the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau (“DRCB”); and 3) private custody evaluators.

Guardian ad Litems serve as the “eyes and ears” of the court. They are appointed by the judge and serve until they are formally released. All Guardian ad Litems must complete specific training; some are attorneys while others are not. Guardian ad Litems are typically more involved than other types of evaluations due to the lengthy time they are on a case.  They must continually update their information with the court and make any changes to their recommendations when needed.

A full investigation is required of the Guardian ad Litem. They will first review the court file and any information provided by the parties to get an idea of what is at issue. They will interview both parents (or the person seeking custody), the children, family members, references provided by the parties, teachers, counselors, doctors, pediatricians, employers, and anyone else with pertinent information and insight relating to the case.  They will also visit each party’s home, sometimes unannounced.  Most judges grant the Guardian ad Litem with authority to access medical and mental health records without the parties’ consent.  This allows the Guardian ad Litem to obtain records directly from the providers without interference by the parties.  The Guardian ad Litem can also obtain school and childcare records without needing permission from the parents.

After the investigation is complete, the Guardian ad Litem will prepare a report for the judge with recommendations on custody and parenting time.  They may also recommend psychological evaluations, counseling, or drug screens depending on the case.  However, a recommendation is just a recommendation; the judge will take all of the information, including testimony and evidence admitted in court, before making a final decision.

The Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau (“DRCB”) is a social service agency available to Marion County Courts. These evaluations can be as thorough as Guardian ad Litem evaluations depending on the time and resources available. The caseworker assigned to a case will spend a significant amount of time reviewing both parents’ autobiographies (this is requested at the beginning of the evaluation), meeting with the parents and children in their office, reviewing all relevant records, and preparing their report for the court. They will also contact outside sources if requested by the parents or on their own initiative. As with all custody evaluations, it is crucial to be cooperative and provide all information to the caseworker or evaluator that is requested.

Private custody evaluations are often requested by one party to a custody case and performed by a clinical psychologist. Due to the extensive personality testing that is conducted, these evaluations range from $3,000 to $10,000+. These professionals will meet with both parents and the children in their office and perform the testing methods they believe are best suited for each situation. A detailed clinical report will be prepared explaining the different tests that were conducted and the results, and will recommend any further testing, counseling, or evaluations they believe are necessary for the custody case.

Regardless of the type of custody evaluator that is appointed to your case, you want to establish a good rapport with him or her, provide the information that is requested of you, and always tell the truth. The court will make its final determination based on all of the evidence presented, which is not always what the evaluator recommended. In the end, there is one main goal of everyone involved: the best interests of your children.

Contact us for more information about different custody evaluations.

Posted by Allison Martinez Wheeler

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