When parents cannot agree on custody during a divorce or if mediation is refused or is unsuccessful, the judge is given the responsibility to decide what is in the best interest of the child. To assist the court in making that determination the Friend of the Court is given the task of completing a custody evaluation. They are required, by law, to investigate all of the facts and make a written recommendation to the court regarding custody. It is always helpful to know, in advance, what the process is and it certainly helps to lessen the anxiety of a parent. It is also important that you present yourself in the best light.
While the Friend of the Court conducts it’s investigation they may meet with both parents, either together or seperately to gather information. This interview is somewhat stressful for parents who are having their parenting skills and relationships with their children evaluated. The intention, however, is to help the parents, attorneys and the court decide when the children should spend time with each of the parents. It is one of many things that the judge will take into consideration in deciding what is in the best interest of the child or children. During the interview the evaluator will discuss the individual segments of the Child Custody Act with each of the parents. Here is what they are:
- The love, affection and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
- The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and the continuation of the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
- The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, or other remedidal care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The permanence, as a familly unit, of the exissting or proposed custodial home or homes.
- The moral fitness of the parties involved.
- The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
- the home, school, and community record of the child.
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
- the willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.
- Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directd at or witnessed by the child.
- Any other factor considered by the court to be of relavence to a particular child custody dispute.(Michigan Custody Guideline:wwwcourts.michigan.gov)
The parents may also be asked to sign a release for information from schools, counselors or other agencies that the child is involved with to gather information about academics, disciplinary issues, extra curricular activities, etc. At times, the child may be interviewed as well.
Although the judge has the final say in deciding custody, when the parties cannot agree, the Friend of the Court recommendation carries great weight. In fact, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of custody disputes are settled along lines recommended by the Friend of the Court, without the case ever going to trial. Keep in mind that the Friend of the Court is not the enemy, but they have a lot of authority. Even though women are so invested in the lives of their children, and it is extremely difficult not become emotional (your kids are at stake and you are afraid of losing them!), a better impression is made if you keep your cool, stick with the facts and remain as objective and professional as possible. Dumping on your spouse often makes a bad impression and comes back to bite you in the end.
Nothing herein constitutes a legal opinion.
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