Report any unethical, improper, or biased behavior BEFORE the evaluator's report is written and the custody recommendation is made. We cannot stress this enough- raising concerns during the evaluation and before the final recommendation is made is crucial. In some cases, concerns raised during the evaluation are cause for the court to throw out the evaluator's report (and with it, the custody recommendation).
Always check to make sure the evaluator followed the ethical guidelines for his profession. 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. 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
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
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
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 here:
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.
If your evaluation has already concluded and you feel the it was done improperly or that the recommendation was in error, consider these options:
Do you have any parenting classes under your belt? If you are "crunched" for time--how about a parenting workshop held on a weekend etc.? Call around to different counselors, or the social service department to find out more information on this.
It wouldn't hurt to look into the evaluator's credentials, criminal record and employment history. Find out whether or not they have the education required to serve as an evaluator.
Look at your local rules of the court to see if anything is listed with regards to custody evaluations. See what the rules are...if an unclean evaluation was conducted, or if some type of policy/protocol was ignored, move to get it tossed out, followed up by a motion to get a new evaluator and go through the whole process again. If necessary, offer to pay for the re-evaluation.
If you participated in any meetings that were videotaped (such as interviews, parent-child play sessions, etc) get a copy of the videotape as soon as possible. Upon careful review of the tape, you may find that the evaluator said or did things that were unethical, improper, illegal, or that contravened his/her ethical guidelines. In one case, a client found not only unethical and improper behavior by the evaluator on his videotape, he also found other client's sessions on his videotape. This was clear evidence of sloppy procedure by the evaluator.
Consider having an experienced custody evaluator review or critique your evaluation. They may find that the methods or techniques used were not done properly or according to accepted guidelines. As mentioned, it would be best if the reviewer has extensive experience in evaluations, including experience with Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). One resource to check for evaluation review/critique services into would be Reena Sommer & Associates.
Have you ever thought of getting a foster parent's license? Although this may sound ridiculous at first, how are they going to argue that you are the "lesser" parent if you are a "certified parent" with the State? Having official status as a foster parent cannot work against you, and may very well make all the difference. If nothing else, it shows that you've invested the time to obtain the accreditation needed to be recognized by the State, and that you have the skills the State requires. This technique has worked for people in the past, and is an absolutely "clean" way to raise your standing compared to the other parent.