Parenting Capacity Evaluations in Virginia Child Custody Cases

Posted on Oct 9, 2020 by Katie Carter

In many types of cases, we can do a basic cost benefit analysis to determine whether something is worth pursuing in litigation. For financial assets, because they can be valued (even when “value” is a range, or there’s some kind of intrinsic sentimental value), that’s more or less easy to achieve. We can tell, at some point, that it’s just not worth continuing to fight for something if the value isn’t there.
Child custody is not one of those things. There is no specific, set “value” you can put on custody; for most mothers, it’s priceless. It’s so priceless, in fact, that huge sums of money are sometimes spent on these cases, especially in cases where there are complicated issues, like relocationreunification, or child abuse. That’s not an exhaustive list, either; in fact, in custody and visitation cases, any number of things can be hugely important – and, by extension, expensive.

What’s a parenting capacity evaluation in a Virginia child custody case?

There are tools that we see utilized in most contested cases (discovery, for example), and there are tools that we see reserved for some of the most challenging and complicated. In general, because a parenting capacity evaluation is so expensive, it’s rarely used.

A parenting capacity evaluation is usually recommended by one side when there are serious concerns around one parent’s fitness or ability to parent. Though the evaluation is usually done mutually (as in, even if only one parent is alleging that the other parent has issues – unlikely! – both parents will undergo an evaluation), it’s often problematic.

It’s a thorough and specific evaluation into each parent, involving interviews of the parent and child, psychological testing, observation, etc. It’s a comprehensive look into the parents, and almost always denotes a super contentious custody case.

I want to request a parenting capacity evaluation on my child’s father.

If you have concerns about your child’s father’s ability to be an effective parent, you want to do all you can to ensure that he’s in as good a place as possible before he has any overnight or extended periods of visitation with the child. Whether your concern is related to substance abuse or addictionmental illness, anger management, or something else, your concerns are real, and valid, and should be taken seriously.

However, like we advise women not to pursue hiring a private investigator in an adultery case prior to working with an attorney to come up with a comprehensive case strategy, it’s also not a good idea to get too far down the line towards requesting a parenting capacity evaluation without working with an attorney. It’s always important to address concerns – cost, time, the involvement of specific professionals, as well as total overall case strategy and goals – before getting too far ahead of yourself in complicated litigation.

My child’s father is requesting a parenting capacity evaluation against me.

It’s a hallmark move, unfortunately. We see it happen all the time that dads – particularly, affluent dads – use things like parenting capacity evaluations to continue to abuse and control their children’s mothers. Rather than having a legitimate concern, I’ve seen it used in an effort to outspend a lesser earning spouse.  Financial abuse, in both divorce and custody cases, is a real thing that happens with more frequency than you would probably expect.

It’s not a nice way of thinking, but it happens. When one parent has more financial ability to withstand the litigation, they can use their affluence against the other parent.

If your child’s father is trying to get a parenting capacity evaluation done on you, you really need professional, experienced help. It’s not easy, and it can get really expensive, but you’re going to need help to manage these landmines effectively.

Sometimes it’s possible to dispute a parenting capacity evaluation by asking a judge to not order it. We could argue that it’s being done in an attempt to financially prejudice one side, and that it’s more prejudicial than probative. We could provide other evidence, too, if it exists – in order to prove that there’s really no necessity to get or create additional records.

Can we choose who can perform the parenting capacity evaluation?

Many times, yes! And it’s important to have the right professionals involved. Like attorneys and Guardians ad litem, there are good and bad parenting capacity evaluators as well. (And there are some that are more sympathetic to mothers or fathers – to disastrous effect, in some cases!)

If you’ve never been in this position before – and you probably never have – you really do need to take this seriously and be proactive. These evaluations are fairly rare, and really only happen in the most contested custody cases. Even hearing a discussion of them puts me in mind of a very contentious litigated custody case, and the best advice I can possibly give you is to get someone very experienced with Virginia custody cases to help you.

For more information, to request a copy of our custody book, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-785-9761.