What Is a Family Services Custody Evaluation?

  •   |   Meghan Freed

In some Connecticut divorce and family law cases, there is a Family Services Custody Evaluation. However, not every case includes a custody evaluation — it only happens when the parties (and their lawyers) or the Court decide that one is appropriate. It generally occurs either when legal or physical custody is at issue, or where there is a significant custody-related dispute including, for example, a parent’s proposed potential post-judgment out-of-state relocation with the children.

Read on to learn more.

What Are the Types of Custody Evaluations?

There are two types of custody evaluations in Connecticut: Family Services Evaluations and Private Custody Evaluations. In both, a custody evaluation is performed by a neutral mental health professional — often a social worker or psychologist or social trained to perform evaluations in litigated custody cases.

What’s the Purpose of a Custody Evaluation?

The custody evaluator:

  • Gathers information about the family that has bearing on the specific area of dispute
  • Interprets that information for the Court, and,
  • Prepares a report with recommendations to the Court

Evaluators prepare written reports explaining their findings in detail. They generally contain background on meetings and conversations with the parents, children, and other sources, as well as the recommendations themselves.

The custody evaluator’s recommendations are not binding in either type of custody evaluation — the Court has the final say. That said, it’s important to know that they are important to and valued by the Court. In the event of a trial, the report is entered as evidence and the evaluator will typically testify.

What is Family Services?

Family Services — also referred to pretty much interchangeably as Family Relations — is part of the Connecticut Judicial Branch. Family Relations assists parents and Judges resolve family law cases, especially including custody cases. One of the services they provide is custody evaluations.

What Are the Types of Family Services Evaluations?

There are two types of Family Relations Evaluations in Connecticut family court:

  • Issue-Focused Evaluations, and
  • Comprehensive Evaluations.

In both, the Family Relations Officer reports back to the court with his or her recommendations. In other words, neither is confidential.

Issue-Focused Evaluation

An Issue-Focused Evaluation, predictably, focuses on a distinct parenting dispute. It is more limited in scope and duration than a Comprehensive Evaluation.

Comprehensive Evaluation

A Comprehensive Evaluation is much more intensive process. The Family Relations Officer conducts a full evaluation of the family system, makes a recommendation to the parents and their attorneys, and then shares it with Court.

Who are Family Relations Officers?

Family Relations Officers, also called Family Relations Counselors, are trained to mediate custody disputes and perform custody evaluations. If a case is referred to Family Services for an evaluation, whether by the parents’ agreement or by a judge, a Family Relations Officer performs the Family Services Evaluation.

How Does a Family Services Evaluation Work?

A Family Services Evaluation will typically include meetings with both parents. Those meetings can be joint, individual, or a combination. In addition, the Family Relations Counselor will likely meet with the children and do home visits. In many cases, parents sign releases so that the Family Relations Counselor can speak with other knowledgeable resources. These sources may include children’s teachers, doctors, and mental health professionals. It’s possible the Family Relations Counselor may also speak with the parents’ doctors and mental health professionals.

What Is the Difference Between a Family Services Custody Evaluation and a Private Evaluation?

First, in a private custody evaluation, a forensic psychologist performs the evaluation, as opposed to the Family Relations.

One of the major differences between a private evaluation and a Family Services Evaluation is cost. A Family Services Evaluation is performed at no cost to the parents, where the parties pay for a private custody evaluation.

Finally, in addition to the steps that Family Relations Officers take to gather information for their evaluation, private custody evaluators will often also conduct psychological testing of the parents and children. The forensic psychologists analyze these results and use them to inform their recommendations on custody.

Family Services Evaluation Vs Private Evaluation

There are many factors to consider when deciding which type of evaluation is best in your circumstances. It really depends on the specifics of your case. You’ll want to have a thorough discussion with your family law attorney to weigh the various considerations, including timeline, expense, potential value of psychological testing, and option for a GAL.

Next Steps

For more information about Connecticut divorce and family law, check out our Divorce Information and Facts. At Freed Marcroft, we have helped hundreds of people move forward to a better life.  At our first step, the Goals & Planning Conference, we start by guiding you through a process to figure out your goals. If you decide that divorce is part of what you need to do to get you to the future you want, we can help you. If it isn’t, we will support you and help you figure out what you need to get you there instead.

Let’s keep you moving forward. Contact us today.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC