In most divorce cases, the most difficult issue to resolve is the custody of and visitation with minor children. Ideally, you will be able to come to an agreement about this with your ex-spouse. You can, however, defer the decision to the Court. If you do, though, the court may order a child custody evaluation, which can cost thousands of dollars. That alone can be a sufficient incentive to try to work out a parenting agreement.
The Rules Governing Child Custody Evaluations
The rules of civil procedure in New Jersey give the court the discretion to order a child custody evaluation upon the request of one or both parties to a divorce. The child custody evaluator is technically an expert witness, so each party may have his or her own evaluator, but various factors including cost mitigate against this. Typically, the Court will enlist a neutral evaluator to make a recommendation regarding what is best for the minor child. Still, however, the parties themselves must pay the fees.
The Court has the power to require a child custody evaluation when doing so is in the best interests of the child. If parties cannot agree with respect to temporary custody while a divorce is pending or with respect to permanent custody, the court can mandate a child custody evaluation. If one of the parties seeks to modify the existing custody arrangement and the other party seeks to challenge that request, a child custody evaluation may be forthcoming.
Even if the parties have “agreed” to a parenting arrangement, the Court has the power to order an evaluation if there is reasonable cause to believe that the agreed upon arrangement is not in the best interests of the child. For example, if there have been allegations of domestic violence or evidence to show that one party to the marriage has used physical or mental intimidation to exert control, the Court may seek an independent assessment of what would be the best custody arrangement.