New Jersey Child Custody Evaluations During Coronavirus

By Erika Piccirillo

In New Jersey, when parents going through divorce are unable to resolve issues surrounding custody and parenting time on their own or with the assistance of the New Jersey Custody and Parenting Time Mediation Program, a Court may order a child custody evaluation.

During a child custody evaluation, an expert will evaluate the family, conduct interviews, and perform other necessary assessments to make recommendations regarding the child’s best interests within a “reasonable degree of psychological certainty.” Custody evaluations often take several months to complete under normal circumstances, depending on the parties’ and expert’s availability as well as the various fact-sensitive issues in the case. With so much on the line, how are custody experts moving forward during the time of coronavirus?

For evaluations that were nearly complete prior to stay-at-home orders, an expert’s recommendation may still be rendered during coronavirus. However, for those early in the custody evaluation process or for those currently seeking an evaluation, the parties may be stuck in limbo until stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements are lifted. While remote platforms have been serviceable for mediation, various court appearances, or even some medical or therapy visits, the same has not yet been proven to be true for custody evaluations. Many experts agree that the risks outweigh the benefits where there are concerns about the lack of control over the assessment environment as well as the general reliability and validity of the outcomes. Any inaccuracies in an evaluation have the potential to lead to a recommendation that may not be in the best interests of the child, which must be avoided as much as possible. Over time, more research may show that the use of virtual technologies is acceptable in performing custody evaluations. However, because there are not currently accepted standards for these technologies in custody evaluations, most new evaluations have been delayed for the time being.

If you have not been able to reach an agreement with your co-parent regarding custody and parenting time, it may be time to explore alternative dispute resolution options. There is no one size fits all approach and our family law team is here to discuss an approach that is best for you and your children.