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Can You "Coach" a Child for a Child Custody Evaluation?

pre-trial preparation Apr 27, 2017

Interviewing children by a mental health professional in a child custody case can be ordered by the judge to determine custody, decision making or parenting time.

If children are of sufficient maturity judges can consider whatever the child wants in making a decision about what is in the child’s best interest.

The judge will often order an evaluation of the child via an interview by a mental health professional. In many of these cases both myself and my client are shocked when the interview comes back and the child has said something different than what the child has actually relayed to the parent whose asking for the change.

But when I sit down and think about it I’m not so shocked because of children and how eager to please their parents they are. How they love their parents and don’t want to hurt either parent’s feelings or have the parent be angry with them. So this can be what is behind when a child tells one parent that they want to come live with them, but when they are interviewed they say something different.

Another factor that can result in a child saying something different during an evaluation is ‘coaching’ which is what I’m going to talk to you about today. Normally where I practice in Arizona, when a judge orders that a child be interviewed by a mental health professional to figure out what the child wants, the judge usually tells both parents that they should not talk to your child about this case, you should not be coaching your child. The child should be able to just be a child and not have to worry about these issues.

However, there have been situations that have come up in my experience where the interview comes back and the child actually reveals that one or both of the parents has been talking to the child about the case or has been coaching the child. This has caused some real difficulties in these cases where I am representing the parent who is accused of coaching or expressing derogatory remarks about the other spouse to the child.

In some instances the child may be lying during the evaluation. But what it boils down to the judge going to believe the child or the parent? Who the judge believes will depend on the distinct facts of your case, the results of the report, who was doing the reporting, child’s demeanor. These things involving children can be really unpredictable.

My advice to you is absolutely do not coach your child before their interview, don’t tell them what to say and don’t bad mouth the other parent. Even if you think that the other parent does not love the child, it is better to say nothing to the child than to say bad things or it can come back and bite you.