Before you sit down to review your custody report, it’s important to remember that the custody evaluator came into this matter as a neutral professional with no predetermined outcome. Although you may like or dislike some or all of what the evaluator wrote, their job is to help the parties address the pertinent issues and determine what is in the best interest of the children. The evaluator doesn’t attempt to please any parent, gender, lawyer, judge, etc., instead, they attempt to resolve the numerous, contentious problems in a manner that will best help the children. This is a very difficult, high pressure, high stakes job that few people do (and for very good reason).
If you choose to review your custody report, and your court allows you to do so, I recommend the following approach as it will best help you assess and process the information.
Be prepared: a custody report will be overwhelming
Divorces are emotionally challenging in the best of circumstances, but when you’re fighting for your children, you will experience one of the most emotionally intense conflicts of your life. As a result, you become hypersensitive to any acknowledgment of personal faults in yourself and in your soon-to-be-former partner or spouse.
The first time you read the custody report, it’s very likely that you will blow it out of proportion. Whether it’s the findings, conclusions, or recommendations, you will view both negative and positive comments as more extreme than they are.
Take notes on the custody report, but not in the way you think
Before you sit down to review the custody report, take out six pieces of paper and a pen. Write your name at the top of three pages and your soon-to-be ex’s name at the top of the other three. For each person, designate one page for the analysis, one page for the conclusions, and the last page for the recommendations. Then, divide each page into three categories: positive, neutral, and negative.
As you read through the report, fill out these pages as honestly as you can, keeping in mind that you may view the custody evaluator’s words in a more extreme manner than others will. After completing this process, do not read through the report again. Simply call it a day.
Review the custody report with your therapist present
It’s very beneficial to have your therapist with you when you review the custody report. If you don’t have a therapist, ask your attorney to bring in a consulting therapist. Ask the therapist to take notes on the custody report in the same way described above. After you’ve both completed reviewing the report and taking notes, put them away for the day. Either later that day or a few days later, have a private session with your therapist to help you process your thoughts and feelings about the report.
The next time you meet with your attorney, request that your therapist attend. Together, review the report and everyone’s notes. You may notice that each person has categorized things slightly differently – that’s okay. Next, discuss how to best use the custody report to help resolve the conflicts between you and your soon-to-be ex. Remember, it’s important that your sole focus remains on what’s in the best interests of the children, and NOT what is best for you or each parent.
A custody report can help you improve your life
On a personal note, there are many moments in life we never forget. One afternoon, I received a call from a parent whose family I evaluated six years earlier. This parent explained that they were extremely angry at me for a very long time, but instead of letting the anger boil over, they finally chose to go to therapy.
Luckily, this person explained, they found a good therapist who helped them make meaningful changes in their life. Then, the parent thanked me for being so honest in my custody report. They said that my honesty was what helped them begin the important process of making meaningful and positive changes in their life. Now, not only do they have a better life of their own, but they have a much better life and relationship with their children.
I fondly remember that call, particularly on days when the expressed opinions about me are decidedly different.