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What is the role of the friend of the court in child custody cases?

In recent posts, we’ve been discussing bias in child custody cases, particularly with respect to child custody evaluations. One of the points we’ve highlighted is that parents need to be aware of the signs of potential bias, both from the judge and from any parties working with the court to come to a custody decision.

One of the important parties courts work with in custody decisions is the county friend of the court office. It is the friend of the court office which completes the child custody evaluation. This entails investigating all the facts relevant to custody, producing a written report and offering recommendations to both the parents and the court. 

Child custody evaluation with the friend of the court involves assessing each party’s parenting skills. The exact process the friend of the court office uses to make this evaluation varies from county to county and on the circumstances of the case. In some cases, for instance, meetings are conducted jointly with both parents, while in other cases, meetings are separate. Whatever the process used, the aim is to determine what is in the best interests of the children.

Evaluators typically aim to gather information for the court regarding each factor listed in the Child Custody Act. These factors include things like: the emotional connection between the parties and the child; the ability of the parties to provide food, clothing and medical care; the moral fitness of the parties; the mental and physical health of the parties; and the presence of domestic violence.

It is important for those working with an attorney to realize they and their attorney have the right to object to the findings of the friend of the court office. Child custody evaluation is supposed to be an objective recommendation, but bias can certainly creep in. When it does, a strong advocate is indispensible. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to make child custody determinations, not the friend of the court office. We’ll speak more about this in our next post.

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What is the role of the friend of the court in child custody cases? | Peter A D'Angelo, Attorney at Law, PLC