You or your spouse has filed for divorce and each of you are seeking primary custody of the child/children. You believe it is in the best interests of the children that you be awarded primary custody. Whether or not you were the children's primary caregiver early in their lives (or more recently), often plays a large role in the court determining what custodial arrangement is in the children's best interest. But often, the simple fact of who was/is in fact the primary caregiver, will be the subject of considerable dispute.
If there is an impasse and the parties' proposed schedules are on opposite ends of the spectrum, you may elect or be ordered to hire a mediator to determine if a custody agreement can be reached. Mediators are often successful is helping parties reach an agreement, but that requires willing parties. If mediation is unsuccessful, and you and your spouse still continue to believe you each should have primary custody, then a lot of cases can turn into the “battle of the affidavits.”
These affidavits can come from the parties themselves, family members, friends, co-workers, therapists, or any other person who have substantive knowledge of the children's interactions with you and/or your spouse. Sometimes this is where the “mud-slinging” starts, with each party alleging the other is a heavy drinker, drug abuser, suffers from a mental disorder that prevents him/her from being a good parent, generally not interested in parenting, etc. Oftentimes, these allegations are alleged by both parties against the others, and are supported by supplemental affidavits from friends and family.
In this circumstance, the Court is left to eventually make a custody determination based on a stack of affidavits that contradict and counter each other. This is typically where a Parenting Time Evaluation by a qualified evaluator can be advantageous to the parties and to the Court. A parenting time evaluation is often necessary because the parties' custody expectations and desires are extremely divergent.
As set forth in Idaho Rule of Family Law Procedure 719, a “parenting time evaluation” is an expert investigation and analysis of the best interest of children with regard to disputed parenting time issues. The purpose of a parenting time evaluation is to provide the Court with information it may consider to make decisions regarding custody and parenting time arrangements that are in the child's best interest. This is accomplished by an appointed evaluator assessing each parent's capacity to parent, and the developmental, emotional, and physical needs of the child. The Court's order appointing an evaluator typically directs the evaluator to consider and respond to the “best interest” factors set forth in Idaho Code §32-717.
Idaho Rule of Family Law 719 provides that the Court, upon a motion of any party, agreement of the parties, or upon its own, may order a parenting time evaluation in any action involving custody of minor children to assist the Court with matters that affect the best interest of the child. The Court can allow the parties to select an evaluator, or the court may appoint an evaluator. If the parties cannot agree on a parenting time evaluator, then typically the Court will request that each party submit a short list of suggested evaluators, from which the Court can choose. Any suggested evaluator must meet certain qualifications.
An appointed parenting time evaluator must have at least one of the following minimum qualifications: (a) licensed physician who is Board certified in psychiatry; (b) licensed psychologist; (c) licensed clinical social worker; (d) licensed social worker in independent practice; (e) licensed clinical professional counselor; or (f) licensed marriage and family therapist. However, the Court may appoint or the parties may stipulate to the appointment of a parenting time evaluator who does not meet the minimum professional credentials, provided that the evaluator has a license in an area relevant to the scope of appointment and has conducted at least twenty (20) court ordered evaluations in the past five (5) years.
A parenting time evaluator will gather facts that will assist the Court in considering factors such as: (a) the wishes of the each parent with respect to the custody of their children; (b) the wishes of the parties' children with respect to their custodial time with each parent (if they are old enough); (c) the interactions and interrelationships of the children with each parent, and with each other; (d) the children's adjustment to their home, school, and community; and (e) the character and circumstances of all persons involved.
If your case is at a point where custody is highly disputed and the Court would benefit from having a neutral professional's input, then the appointment of a parenting time evaluator may be appropriate.