Given the importance of a parent’s right to raise his or her children, parents must have a good opportunity to challenge a bad parenting evaluation. The parenting evaluation should be based on statements that are recorded or which at least have written confirmations signed by the sources cited in the report; but they rarely do have them available. Ideally, an aggrieved parent should be able to hand the data to a second evaluator who is blind to the analysis and recommendations.
There should also be a disclosure of what a normal parenting plan should look like. These model parenting plans are often referred to by the court and relate to the age of the subject children. The Spokane County Superior Court GAL Committee published “Child Centered Residential Schedules.” This model is based on consensus within the psychological community as to routines that tend to be in the best interests of children, based on their developmental stages. See Francis Catania, Jr., Learning from the Process of Decision: The Parenting Plan, 2001 B.Y.U.L. REV. 857; Risa Garon, Danielle Donner and Kristen Peacock, From Infants to Adolescents: A Developmental Approach to Parenting Plans, 38 FAM. & CONCILIATION COURTS REV. 168 (2000); Michael E. Lamb, Placing Children’s Interests First: Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Plans, 10 VA. SOC. POL’Y & L. 98 (2002). Several states (including but not limited to Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Florida, and Indiana) have issued model parenting, which are either suggestive or presumptive. These models can be reviewed periodically as the consensus of professional opinion may shift over time, as it has in the past.
After setting forth the standard parenting plan, the evaluator should state any reasons, if any, for deviating from it. Specific reasons may include a parent’s work schedule, distance between households, lack of a parental bond, alcoholism or substance abuse, or domestic violence. In any event, there would be a clearly stated cause-and-effect linkage. The parents and the court could then focus on validating the recommendation. Some of the reasons for a deviation are of a transitory nature, and the recommendation should then give an opinion as to the measures necessary to change the deviation into the normal parenting plan.
My observations and recommendations about the parenting evaluation process are the result of my participating in many parenting plan evaluations. I have been appointed a parenting evaluator and know first-hand the difficulty of the evaluator’s task, which is only made more difficult by a lack of clear guidelines. I have also represented clients embroiled in a parenting evaluation, and have experienced the frustrations from the parent’s point of view. I believe that both would be well-served by a clearly defined and transparent process. Obviously, the parent’s interest is more important than that of the parenting evaluator. The parent has to live with the result for a long time and it defines his or her relationship with their child. For these reasons, I find these cases to be the most challenging and rewarding ones I come across as a family law attorney.Google+