As we have explained in previous blogs, in most counties in Maryland, the first scheduled court date once litigation has commenced is a scheduling conference. This is an opportunity for the litigants to tell the Court what hearings/trials they will need and court services they might need. Among those services to ask for may be a custody evaluation. In counties such as Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County custody evaluations are available at no cost in those custody cases where a Judge or Master can be convinced it is necessary. These would typically be cases where custody is highly contested or other exceptional circumstances exists (an unfit home, potential abuse, etc). A description of the custody evaluations performed in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County can be found at their respective websites.
Depending on the county where the evaluation is ordered, an evaluation typically involves a meeting with both parents with the children, possibly a visit to each parent’s home, and interview with those who frequently interact with the parents and children (counselors, school staff, family members). Once the evaluation is completed, a report is typically drafted by the evaluator where he or she will recommend a custody arrangement and their reasons for recommending same. The Court may set in a conference date for the parties to review the evaluation, or the evaluation will be sent to the parties and/or their attorneys.
A custody evaluation can be helpful in many ways as it is a tool for the Judge or Master to hear about the parties’ homes and interactions with their children from a third party professional. However, a custody evaluator’s recommendation may or may not have bearing on the Judge or Master’s ultimate decision with regards to custody. It is up to the Court to decide if they will even allow the contents of the evaluation to be disclosed at the final custody hearing, as much of it contains hearsay ( out of court statements). Additionally, a custody evaluation can aid parties in reaching a resolution prior to going to trial on their matter.
For more information on Maryland custody contact an experienced Maryland custody attorney.