If you anticipate that you and your spouse will be unable to agree on custody, ask about filing a motion for custody assessment. If the court grants this motion, it will assign your case to a custody investigator, usually an employee of the Friend of the Court, or in some counties an independent contractor. The Child Custody Act also authorizes the court to utilize a guardian ad litem, often an attorney appointed by the court to investigate and submit a report regarding the child’s best interests. The judge can also appoint a lawyer-guardian ad litem for the children if it appears the children’s interests are not being adequately represented. The lawyer-guardian ad litem can file motions and call witnesses on behalf of the children. Custody investigators are often psychologists or social workers who specialize in investigating and determining which parent in a contested custody case is more capable of providing care for the child consistent with the child’s best interest. If your case is assigned to an investigator, he or she may visit your home, and you and your spouse will be interviewed extensively regarding the details of both parents’ relationships with the children. Be prepared to answer questions concerning such details as:
- Who bathes, dresses, or grooms the child?
- How is discipline administered?
- Which parent usually attends parent-teacher conferences and school events?
- Which parent helps the child with homework?
- Does the family have a religious tradition? Is religion discussed in the home and by which parent? Do the parents pray or read scriptures with the children? Do the parents take the children to church? How long has the child attended this particular church?
- If the child is afraid of something, which parent is more likely to offer comfort?
- Have the parents taught the child about human sexuality, and, if so, what was the role of each parent in doing that?
- Who cooks and prepares meals for the child?
- Which parent more often takes the child to school?
- Who buys clothing for the child?
- Does the child have any responsibilities around the house? How are family household chores divided?
- Does the child have any pets?
- What leisure activities do the parents participate in with the child? Does either parent coach a sport? Which parent attends sporting events?
- Has either parent ever abused the child, physically, sexually or emotionally?
- What are the sleeping arrangements in the home? Do the children share a bedroom or a bed with anyone else? Does the child ever sleep with one or both parents?
- Do the parents use alcohol or drugs, and are they involved in pornography, gambling or other addictive behaviors? Does either parent smoke? If so, is it in the presence of the child or in the house or vehicle?
- Does either parent use inappropriate, foul or obscene language in the presence of the child?
- What are the child’s favorite toys, television shows, songs, books, computer games?
- Is one parent more likely than the other to utilize safety precautions such as a car seat or bicycle helmet?
- Describe your parenting styles and those of the other parent. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a parent?
- What is your work schedule? Who cares for the child when you are working? Are you required to work overtime or be on call? Do you travel for work?
- Is one parent more able to provide for the basic needs of the child, including clothing, food, shelter, and medical care?
- Does either party have a significant other? Has this person been introduced to the child, and, if so, how would you characterize the relationship?
- Does the child enjoy relationships with siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, or other relatives?
- What kinds of things do you do to facilitate a close relationship between the child and the other parent?
- Does either parent have health concerns that might affect his or her ability to parent the child?
The investigator may interview the children and other individuals familiar with your family, including teachers, counselors, daycare providers, friends, neighbors and relatives, and examine medical and school records, social service and child protective services reports, if any.
Once the investigation is complete, the Friend of the Court office will provide a comprehensive report and recommendation to the court and attorneys. While the investigative report is not in and of itself determinative of custody, it is an important piece of evidence the judge must consider. If there is a custody trial, we will most likely subpoena the investigator, who may testify concerning the opinions contained in the report. The Child Custody Act provides that information contained in a Friend of the Court custody investigation report is admissible as evidence under most circumstances.