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Custody Evaluations (Minnesota)

By Eric C. Nelson, Esq.

Minnesota statutes provide that: "In contested custody proceedings . . . the court may order an investigation and report concerning custodial arrangements for the child. "1 This is referred to as a "custody evaluation." Although not mandatory, it is almost always ordered in contested custody cases, with rare exception, although in some counties or situations this task may be essentially assigned to a Guardian ad Litem rather than a custody evaluator (which is not advisable).

The cost of a custody evaluation can range from the hundreds to several thousands of dollars, depending on the county and whether the parties are using a Court Services evaluator or a private evaluator, in if so, who.

Custody evaluations usually take about four months to complete, give or take. A good custody evaluation will generally include the following:
  • at least one both usually two or three interviews with each parent, separately, totaling at least two or three hours for each parent.
  • at least one but usually two or three interviews of the children without the parents being present, totaling at least two or three hours.
  • in person or telephone consultation with the children's day care provider, teacher, and any other adults having a close relationship with the children.
  • for younger children, a observation of interaction between the children and each parent in each parent's separate home.
  • criminal background check of each parent.
  • obtaining the mental health records of each parent, including alcohol and drug dependency treatment records.
  • ordering a psychological evaluation of the parents, ideally in every case, but at least in every case where credible allegations of mental illness are raised.
  • ordering an alcohol and/or chemical abuse assessment where legitimate issues of alcohol or drug abuse are raised.
  • records of the children's school performance.
  • all other information relevant to determining the best interests of the children with respect to custody.
Upon completion of the Custody Evaluator's investigation, the Evaluator completes a report which addresses all of the "best interest" factors set forth in section 518.17, with detailed analyses, followed by the Evaluator's custody and parenting time recommendations2.

Although the Custody Evaluator's recommendations are not binding, they weigh heavily in the Court's determination of custody. Apart from some minor tweaking, the Court will almost always follow the Custody Evaluator's recommendations as to custody and parenting time. For this reason, most cases which have not settled before this point will reach settlement when the Custody Evaluation report is received. For those who wish to contest a custody evaluator's recommendations, it is advisable to obtain a rebuttal evaluation if feasible, or at least to be prepared to bring plenty of witnesses and exhibits to trial to show the Court what it was that the evaluator failed to consider or to properly analyze.

1 Minnesota Statute section 518.167, Subdivision 1.
2 Minnesota Statute section 518.167, Subdivision 1.

Eric C. Nelson has devoted his practice exclusively to family law, with particular focus on divorce and child custody matters, including, but not limited to post-decree modification of custody. Eric has successfully handled hundreds of cases of divorces (both contested and uncontested), child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, parenting time, out-of-state moves, domestic abuse, harassment, and other miscellaneous family law matters, both in and out of court. Mr. Nelson has been praised by clients for a respectful attitude, promptness and honesty.

He can be contacted by phone at (612)321-9402 or
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