When parents dispute custody, courts frequently order custody evaluation. This frequently involves the appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL), a mental health professional or a lawyer, who, for the purposes of the pending litigation, investigates and uses his or her own judgment in determining the best interest of the child. His or her nonbinding report carries great weight with the judge who must make the final decision.
Depending on court, the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the case, judges use GALs in disputed custody and visitation cases.
The evaluator assesses the rapport a child has with each parent, and a GAL may examine the way both parents and a child get along. An evaluator may visit the home of each parent, and he or she may contact teachers, doctors, and baby-sitters.
Sometimes parents resent a GAL because a custody evaluation can be very invasive, but it is wise to cooperate with the GAL.
A custody evaluator is neutral and does not take sides. He or she is throwing a cold eye on the quality of a parent-child relationship.