In the psychological evaluations and home-studies that will be done, you have to show the courts that you are a better parent. Sometimes the Judge will make up his or her mind before the hearing takes place from the information found in the psychological evaluations and home-studies.
During the evaluation, be prepared to discuss your parenting style, undergo psychological testing, and have the evaluator observe how you interact with your children, either during a home visit or in a monitored "Parent/Child Play Session". Discuss with your attorney what to expect during the evaluation, and be sure to read the Guide To The Parenting Evaluation Process.
In your psychological evaluation you need to show yourself as a happy caring parent with strong parental skills and great patience, who wants to maintain a strong healthy relationship between the other parent and the children. You should be a very happy, contented person who has a concern: that the other parent may not be able to properly fulfill the role of custodial parent because he or she does not want to keep you informed or included of the important aspects of the child's life, like their progress in school and or major decisions involving the child.
Alternatively, you may state that the other parent has (or may have) emotional, behavioral or psychological problems that may prevent them from properly parenting the children. If you make this assertion, you must have some evidence to back these claims up, or suggest that an evaluation of the other parent may confirm these claims.
Also, state your concerns that he or she may not fulfill the role of custodial parent in the best interest of the child because of things he or she has done. As you explain why you are concerned about such activity, show the evaluator the documentation of what your he or she did. You must show that you are a better parent while at the same time providing evidence to the evaluator showing them your spouse's shortcomings as a parent.
The same concept applies to the home-study (if one is performed). Not only do you need to show how you can provide a good (perhaps even better) home-life for the children, but you need to explain your concerns over custody...and why you would be a better parent. Make the evaluator fully understand the efforts that you would make. Remember, this is some of the information that the Judge is going to consider.
The only time you should relate anything negative about your spouse is in a situation where you are able to clearly show what her specific parenting-skill deficits are. This information may be documented examples of her inability or unwillingness to properly care for a child, or actions of hers that present the possibility risk or injury to a child. (For example, not seeking timely medical care for the child in the event of illness, a history of automobile accidents with the child in the vehicle, exposing the child to an unsafe environment, etc.)
In short, you need to acknowledge that your ex-spouse is a good parent (or has the potential to be one), state you are a better parent, state your concerns (with documentation) and explain or show how you would do a better job.
Another important item to consider is the discipline or background of the evaluator. Generally evaluators will come from one of four categories: psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Each type of evaluator operates somewhat differently. Familiarize yourself the various types so you'll have a better idea of what they will focus on. You will also want to understand the different codes of ethics that each type must follow.
If the evaluator is a psychologist, he or she must follow the ethical guidelines used by the American Psychological Association. You can find the code of ethics for the American Psychological Association online at www.apa.org/ethics/homepage.html. There are specific rules that pertain to evaluations as well as general conduct. You may also write the American Psychological Association and request a copy of their code of ethics. Write to:
APA Ethics Office 750 First St, NE Washington, DC 20002 Telephone: 202-336-5930
If the evaluator is a psychiatrist, he or she must follow the ethical guidelines used by the American Psychiatric Association. You can find the code of ethics for the American Psychiatric Association online at www.psych.org/apa_members/ethics.html. Like psychologists, psychiatrists also have specific rules that apply to custody and/or parenting evaluations. You may also write the American Psychiatric Association and request a copy of their code of ethics. Write to:
American Psychiatric Association 1400 K Street, NW Washington, DC 20005 Telephone 202-682-6000
If the evaluator is a social worker, he or she is supposed to follow the code of ethics proposed by the National Association of Social Workers. You can find the code of ethics for the National Association of Social Workers at www.naswdc.org/CODE.HTM. You may also write the National Association of Social Workers and request a copy of their code of ethics. Write to:
National Association of Social Workers 750 First Street, NE, Suite 700 Washington DC 20002 Telephone: 202-408-8600
If the evaluator is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), he or she is supposed to follow the code of conduct for the State in which they perform their duties for the court. The code of conduct varies from State to State but most are fairly standardized. One example of GAL guidelines can be found on the New Hampshire Court pages (http://www.courts.state.nh.us/rules/misc/misc-3.htm). Standards for CASA's can be found on the National CASA Association site. You may also ask the GAL or the court for a copy of the GAL's code of conduct.
The following comments are from "DeeDee", one of the users of the SPARC Forum message boards. Her comments were so practical and valuable, we reproduced them here for your benefit. Pay attention to what she has to say:
Do you have any parenting classes under your belt? Taking parenting classes is considered a good thing by evaluators and counselors, and serves two purposes: First, it gives you additional skills and tools to assist you in raising your children. Second, it raises your perceived "status" in the eyes of evaluators and counselors, as it shows you've taken positive steps to increase your parenting skills. If you are "crunched" for time--how about a parenting workshop held on a weekend or evenings? Call around to different counselors, or the social service department to find out more information on this.
When you see the counselor, try to figure out a thing or two about them, is their office neat and organized, how many pens/pencils in the office. (Do they write down anything you have to say? If not, ask them how they can remember ALL this since they must have quite a workload.)
Pay attention to the clothes/shoes they wear, are they "designer"? If so, then you know that they think "image" is high on their priority list, so make sure you dress well when you see them. (If the evaluator was able to view the children with your ex, make sure you are afforded the same opportunity--even if you are only taking the children there for an interview.)
When meeting with counselors or evaluators, look at the office walls--look at the degree's, find out those colleges and see what type of psych. programs they have at those schools. Look for higher degrees--usually this means they had some type of research project or vast experience in field work. It also means they could be published...do a little research to see if you can find any of their work/studies/thesis. Also pay close attention to where he or she earned their degree of "higher learning" from. Where a person has lived has an impact on their life. (Personally I would expect a counselor educated in a southern state to be a tad more "pro-mother" than "pro-father"...of course this is just my opinion on the matter.)
Look at the pictures on the walls--see anything you like--the type of art hanging says a lot about the counselor you'd be seeing.
For example: one counselor we deal with has pictures of horses...I just commented as to how I really liked quarter horses--shared a funny story I had about riding one and talked about taking the children horseback riding at my uncles ranch. (Object Lesson: establish common ground for yourself and the children.)
Another counselor had Monet and Manet prints-- I told her I appreciated French impressionists, would love to catch the "French impressionist" tour to take the children to one day. (Object Lesson: show your "smarts" in a non-threatening way...this way, they will probably be more inclined to state something like intelligence before they would list "confidence", this also shows the type of values and cultural items you'd share with your children.)