Adults have the exam dream so often, its shorthand is recognizable with just those words: “the exam dream.” In the exam dream, you wake to find you are back in high school and confronting a final exam for which you are completely unprepared. Maybe the subject is astrophysics, or calculus, or … perhaps it is a child custody evaluation, and it’s no dream.

Child Custody in Virginia

Children from a Virginia divorce can be placed in the care of one parent, both parents, or other relatives. Under Code of Virginia § 20-124.3 even during pendente lite (while the case is pending) a child can be given over to, say, you, with your wife having visitation rights.

The mix of options is surprisingly robust:

  1. You or your wife get sole physical custody
  2. You and your wife get joint physical custody
  3. You and your wife get shared physical custody
  4. A close relative (grandparent, aunt, uncle) could get sole physical custody
  5. You or your wife get sole legal custody
  6. You and your wife get shared legal custody

Determining who gets the majority of the time with the children is tricky stuff; judges do not like to err on the side of risk-taking when dealing with the best interests of the child. Conservative, cautious placements far outweigh any attempt at experimentation.

In all cases, maintaining contact and close relationships with the non-custodial parent is built into the law.

One method used to determine suitable custody in the best interests of the child is for the presiding judge to order a child custody evaluation.

The Child Custody Evaluation

Imagine combining all the most positive aspects of a proctologist’s … er … probing … with a lengthy tax audit. Throw in a mother-in-law’s white-gloved inspection of your bathroom, and you begin to get the idea of a child custody evaluation. The evaluation is actually not so invasive, but it feels like that sometimes.

A child custody evaluation under Virginia Code § 16.1-278.15 puts your entire life under scrutiny:

  • Your physical home
  • The “home atmosphere” you create for your children
  • Family interactions and relationships
  • The quality of the relationship you have with all your children
  • The child’s day-to-day living conditions
  • Your personal outlook toward life, your children, and the divorce

Cast of Characters

A mental health professional is usually chosen by the court to conduct the child custody evaluation. This is a crucial bit of awareness any Virginia Dad should have.

A mental health professional will use psychology and psychiatry to probe the mental health of all parties. This means interviewing anyone who may have witnessed the relationships between you, the Dad, and your children:

  • Medical professionals
  • Coaches
  • Daycare and childcare workers
  • School guidance counselors and teachers
  • Religious leaders

All the interviews would be voluntary, of course, but they would also be extensive. Every aspect of your whole family’s relationships is studied:

  1. Your wife’s and your own mental fitness
  2. Your wife’s and your views and attitudes on parenting
  3. Your wife’s and your capacity to parent effectively
  4. Evidence of alienation
  5. Evidence of psychological, emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  6. Evidence of neglect

Think about how you will feel to return to your child’s daycare on a Monday after finding out a court-appointed mental health evaluator spent an hour on Friday interviewing the caregiver. You are not allowed to ask the caregiver about the interview. You are not allowed to try to coax anything from your child’s caregiver. Yet the questions burn within you.

Getting Prepared for your Interview with the Evaluator

Since you are literally on trial for the right to win custody of your child, treat the interview with a child custody evaluator as a formal, business-like arrangement. Avoid artificial friendliness. Avoid presumptions of partiality — successful evaluators make both parents feel like the other parent was liked more.

The evaluator is not your friend, counselor, advocate or attorney. Be polite but businesslike. Avoid long responses that reveal more than was asked. At all costs, avoid speaking about your spouse. Focus entirely on your children.

Speak to your children before speaking with the child custody evaluator. Let your kids know what is happening, and that the evaluator does not make any final, legal decisions. Do nothing to sway your children (“If you say you want to spend all your time with Dad, I’ll buy you a pony, but don’t tell the evaluator I will, okay?”). Do nothing to impugn your wife or her parenting abilities.

Let facts speak for themselves. If your wife really did neglect or abuse your children, show impartial proof (police or medical records; witness statements). Avoid casting aspersions or making anything resembling a threat (“I don’t see how anybody could think she’s a better parent than me. Those kids will get hurt in no time at her house.”)

Make It as Plain as Possible

Describe your child’s day with you. Describe how you feel about your children and show how you are aware of them. Show the evaluator that you are familiar with your child’s likes and dislikes, fears and dreams. Name your children’s friends. Show you are close to your kids without smothering them.

Speak plainly, in short sentences. Be willing to mention parenting mistakes you have made. No parent is perfect, and a suspiciously perfect parent will raise red flags.

By preparing and practicing with your family law attorney, you can deliver an honest, child-centered interview.

We Represent Dads!

When you reach out to The Firm For Men by calling 757-383-9184, or when you contact us online, you can speak to a Virginia custody attorney for dads. You can learn much more than we can offer in these brief paragraphs about child custody, post-divorce issues, and your rights as a Virginia man. Our exclusive mission is to represent only Virginia’s men in all aspects of family law.