Custody cases can be scary and confusing for all parties involved: mom, dad and children. Fortunately most of the cases settle before getting to a judge. If not, there is the very small chance that a custody evaluator may be appointed by the court or, may be hired privately by either Mom or Dad. Regardless of how the custody evaluator is chosen, there are similarities in what they are hired to do. Fees can range anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000 for an experienced evaluator.
A custody evaluator is usually more than a therapist but doesn't necessarily have to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. He or she has training and experience in child development, local custody law and procedure, and family systems. Make sure you review the evaluator's resume (C.V.) to see experience and education and check to see if the evaluator has written any articles or books. It would be a good idea to read those items if you can get them.
The evaluator is going to interview Mom, Dad, the children, and any other people living in Mom or Dad's home. There's a good chance he or she will also interview therapists, school counselors or teachers, grandparents, child care providers or medical providers. The idea is to get a complete picture of the children in their daily lives. The final report detailing all of the interviews can be up to 100 pages or more. The report itself may not be released to Mom and Dad; it could be released to the judge and/or the attorneys only. In that case, if you want to read the report you will have to go to your attorney's office. You will not be allowed to make a copy or take it with you. This is because of numerous privacy concerns.
Most evaluators do not give their "ultimate opinion" i.e. who do they think the children should live with. That is something usually left to the Judge to decide. Many times the judge will rely heavily on the evaluator's report. I have worked with several excellent custody evaluators. It is an important decision not to be taken lightly. Discuss all options with your attorney before proceeding.