Many parents who find themselves in the midst of a contested legal proceeding
involving the allocation of parental responsibilities (i.e. living arrangements,
visitation and rights of decision-making) consider obtaining an expert’s
opinion on the subject through a process known as a Parental Responsibility
Evaluation (PRE). As its name suggests, a Parental Responsibility Evaluation
is an informative tool that helps the court allocate parental responsibilities
between parents in a way that will best meet the immediate and future
needs of the minor children involved. Although this evaluation is often
critical, many people enter into the process with little knowledge of
what they should expect or of what will be expected from them.
What is a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (P.R.E.)?
A Parental Responsibility Evaluator is a licensed professional who investigates
into the family’s unique dynamics through a series of interview,
examination and observation sessions with each parent and/or minor children.
The investigation typically lasts six to eight weeks, and concludes upon
the P.R.E.’s submission of a final report detailing his/her investigative
findings. The PRE’s job is not to determine which parent is a “better”
parent, but to rather determine how each parent is best able to meet their
children’s needs both in the immediate sense and as the children
mature into adulthood, and then develop a parenting plan reflective of
What Should I Expect During the Evaluation Process?
While each evaluator may vary slightly on how they conduct the evaluation,
below you may find a quick overview of the most commonly employed investigative
techniques in the evaluation process:
1. Several Individual and Joint Interviews
- Interviews with the evaluator, you and the other parent;
- Individual interviews with just you and the evaluator;
- Individual and joint interviews for any children involved;
- Visit observations between you and your children;
- Visit observations between you and any romantic partner with your children;
- Visit observations with just your children;
- Interviews with your children’s therapists, teachers and doctors.
2. Psychological Testing
- A unique component of a Parental Responsibility Evaluation as opposed to
other parenting experts/evaluations is the facilitation of psychological
testing, which is why a P.R.E. is often retained in cases where there
are allegations of mental illness or substance abuse.
3. Home Visits
- Experts will often conduct home visits in order to observe the way you
and your children interact in your natural environment.
4. Parent Questionnaires and Autobiography
- This allows the evaluator to obtain a sense of each parent’s perspective
on the proceeding, and is a cost-effective way for the evaluator to obtain
the requisite background information of each parent and child.
5. Records Review
- Doctor reports, therapist recommendations and court filings;
6. Background Information from Personal References
- The evaluator may obtain information from any individual that you believe
may be helpful to the investigation by having the individual complete
a written questionnaire.
7. Additional Documentation
- You may provide the evaluator with any information you believe may be helpful
for him to review when forming his recommendations, such as audio or visual
recordings, written documents, photographs, or any other evidence you
believe may be helpful.
Who Pays for the Evaluation?
Although neither parent technically “hires” a PRE, the allocated
cost of the evaluation will vary depending on who requests the evaluation,
and the financial resources available to each parent. If the parents disagree
as to whom should be the majority caretaker of the children, then they
will both likely end up paying for the evaluator’s services equally;
however, if there is a disparity in income, the parent whom is the primary
breadwinner may be responsible for a higher percentage of the fees than
the parent whom is unemployed or earning a lesser wage.
What is a Psychological Assessment?
A psychological assessment is a unique component of the Parental Responsibilities
Evaluation as compared to other parenting assessment options and is used
to evaluate the emotional and mental fitness of the individual being tested.
Most of the assessments typically utilized by an evaluator fall within
the following four categories: (1) cognitive functioning tests; (2) objective
personality tests; (3) projective personality tests; and (4) parenting
assessment tests. These tests provide the Parental Responsibility Evaluator
and the courts with a scientific method to assess whether an individual
is fit and able to provide for the needs of their children.
What is the Role of a Guardian ad Litem?
While a guardian ad Litem may have several roles within the judicial system,
when there are parenting disputes, the guardian ad litem often acts as
the voice of the child. The Guardian ad Litem’s primary role is
to neutrally assess which living and decision-making arrangement the children
would thrive under most. The Guardian ad Litem will complete his/her own
report to the Court regarding parental fitness and the most enhancive
Why Should I Cooperate with the Evaluation?
As a parent, this is your chance to prove to the courts that you are a
suitable custodian for your child(ren). Resistance or refusal to cooperate
with the evaluation process will make you look bad in the eyes of the
Court and will likely negatively influence the Court’s final decision
when determining living arrangements, parenting time and decision-making
abilities. You want to show the Court that you are reasonable, responsible
and capable of putting your children’s needs before your own, which
isn’t apparent if you refuse to cooperate with the evaluation. The
evaluator’s recommendations hold significant weight with the Court,
and while you may contest a decision that you believe to be unfavorable,
the Court usually will not deviate from the evaluator’s recommendations
unless there is a clear good reason for doing so.
Where Can I Get More Information?
The family law attorneys at Clawson & Clawson, LLP, have extensive
experience working with parenting experts and have established positive
working relationships with most parenting experts in the local area. With
so many emotions involved in parenting disputes, it is often helpful to
have an objective legal professional at your side to work you through
the process and make sure your rights are protected throughout the evaluation
process. Just call (719) 634-1848 to set up a free initial consultation
with a family law attorney today.