If you are facing a child custody case in Chicago, you may be wondering what a child custody evaluation is and how it is used in the custody process. A child custody evaluation is a standard evaluation ordered by the Court. It helps the Judge make decisions about parental responsibilities and parenting time. The Court may order this pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/604.10(b).
Illinois statute 750 ILCS 5/604.10(b) states:
“(b) Court’s professional. The court may seek the advice of any professional, whether or not regularly employed by the court, to assist the court in determining the child’s best interests. The advice to the court shall be in writing and sent by the professional to counsel for the parties and to the court not later than 60 days before the date on which the trial court reasonably anticipates the hearing on the allocation of parental responsibilities will commence. The court may review the writing upon receipt. The writing may be admitted into evidence without testimony from its author, unless a party objects. A professional consulted by the court shall testify as the court’s witness and be subject to cross-examination. The court shall order all costs and fees of the professional to be paid by one or more of the parties, subject to reallocation in accordance with subsection (a) of Section 508.
The professional’s report must, at a minimum, set forth the following:
(1) a description of the procedures employed during the evaluation;
(2) a report of the data collected;
(3) all test results;
(4) any conclusions of the professional relating to the allocation of parental responsibilities under Sections 602.5 and 602.7;
(5) any recommendations of the professional concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities or the child’s relocation; and
(6) an explanation of any limitations in the evaluation or any reservations of the professional regarding the resulting recommendations.”
Determining the Best Interests of the Child
Simply put, the Court orders a professional in the field to interview all parties to the case, the minor children involved and any other relevant person or source that would assist them in determining what is in the best interest of the child(ren). To determine what is in the best interest of the child, we can look at the factors provided in the statute for the designation of parenting time and parental responsibility. The Court will look at factors like: the wishes of the child, mental and physical health of all individuals involved, child’s needs, willingness to facilitate and encourage a close relationship with the other parent, occurrence of abuse or violence towards or around the child, etc. The Court also adds a final factor that allows them to consider any other factor the court expressly finds to be relevant. This is a “catch-all” factor that allows the court to look at the situation as a whole and allows the uniqueness of the case to assist them in their decisions.
These interviews and evaluations by the evaluator are throughout and will most likely take longer than one session. Not only should the evaluator assess what is being said, but they also look to body language and context clues to get a full picture of what the child(ren)s living situation is and then assess what it should be. These evaluators typically are individuals whose work primarily revolves around conducting the 604.10(b) evaluations, so they know exactly what to ask and what to look for. Child custody evaluators are licensed professionals who need to meet certain state standards to be able to conduct these particular evaluations. The Judge may assign an evaluator, or you may choose from a court-appointed list. Typically, the cost of an evaluator is split between the parties based on their respective incomes, but the Court may also order one parent to pay significantly more, depending on the circumstances.
How a Child Evaluation Is Used By the Court
An evaluation by a professional is used by the Court to determine what is in the best interest of the child and this feat does not happen overnight. Depending on the complexity of the case, these evaluations could take anywhere from one month to several. Being diligent by promptly responding to your evaluator and making sure to prioritize their appointments will only make this process quicker.
If you choose your child custody attorney appropriately, they will be able to assist you with strategies to assist the evaluator with their duties while keeping your desires in mind. A seasoned attorney will also have years of experience with certain evaluators and will know which people they find more effective, specifically for your case. These evaluators, as professional as they may seem, are still human. Thus, finding one that can remain objective while also providing the specific care and attention your case needs is very important. Although the Court is not bound to the evaluator’s report, the Court does give high deference to their recommendations because the evaluators are the ones with first-hand knowledge of the situation. In the end, it all comes down to what is best for your child(ren) and the Court strives to do just that, with the assistance of a 604.10(b) evaluation.