Children don’t ask to come into this world, and they don’t have much of a say in the divorce process. The only thing children do ask is to be loved and cared for. This is just as true in an intact family as it is in a divorced family. Unfortunately, many parents in the throes of a divorce lose sight of this very important fact.
I often meet parents who use their children as bargaining chips. Instead of thinking about what the child wants, it becomes about what they want. Often, parents need a reminder that no child wants their mom and dad to get a divorce. But, when divorce occurs, the children’s rights to be taken care of far exceeds the parent’s perceived rights to their children.
Custody evaluations and the courts have one primary goal: determine what is in the best interest of the children. The evaluator seeks to answer one important question in their report: What is the best environment possible for the children to thrive? The evaluator does not seek to determine that the mother or father deserves X, Y, or Z because they are a parent.
The courts and I share the view that parents have a right to a meaningful or substantial relationship with their children. Unless there is an overriding reason and concern for the safety of the children, everybody expects this will occur.
When an evaluator or the court seeks to determine what is in the best interest of the child, it is very important that parents understand a major part of this decision is a parent’s capacity to maintain the other parent’s meaningful connection and contact with the child. Unless there is a safety concern, parents are expected to behave in this manner. If one parent is interfering in that process, it will work against them.
Don’t try to game the system
Even though support for the other parent should be a given, there are many parents who look to game the system. Some parents will make false claims of parental alienation. Others will impede upon a parent’s ability to take on a new and more meaningful role in the children’s lives. This is especially true in situations where one parent, often the father, did not previously play a significant role in the parenting process, but now seeks to develop a new and appropriate relationship with their children. Both of these situations will be recognized by a trained evaluator.
How to approach your evaluation
Before your evaluation, I encourage you to take a step back and reflect on the fact that the evaluator wants what is best for your children. Ask yourself, “Am I doing anything to prevent the children from getting everything they need in this situation?” If the answer is yes, then do the work to change that. This means that you must put aside the substantial hurt and anger you feel for the other parent. You should recognize that although it didn’t work out with the two of you, and regardless of how much you like or dislike the other parent, that child is still biologically a part of both of you. That needs to be respected and protected.
Remember, you do not deserve a certain amount of time with/decision-making for your children simply because you are the parent. Instead, your children deserve to be with the parent who will make decisions that are in the children’s best interests, including fostering a relationship with the other parent.
A custody evaluator’s role is to help the court understand the family dynamics, each individual’s psychological makeup, and the children’s needs. The evaluator’s report will help the court determine a structure for parenting time and decision making that will best serve the children.