The Best Interests of the Child Standard
Legal proceedings for determining issues of child custody and visitation—now referred to as “parental responsibilities and parenting time”—focus on promoting the best interests of the minor child. The law is preoccupied with protecting a child’s safety, health, and welfare. As a result, Illinois law tethers child custody determinations to the central issue of promoting the child’s best interests.
However, it is difficult for a court to make parental responsibility and parenting time decisions based solely on the hearings and interactions it has with the parties. After all, how can a court determine what custody arrangement serves the child’s best interests without getting to know the child and his or her relationship with their parents.
The Role of Custody Evaluators
Illinois courts may appoint custody evaluators to investigate matters involving child custody. Courts have relatively limited experience when it comes to the medical and developmental concerns of children. Furthermore, courts have limited opportunities to assess the interactions between parents and their children. As a result, Illinois courts rely on the expertise, education, and recommendations of custody evaluators to supplement its own wisdom and judgment.
So how important are custody evaluators? A custody evaluator must meet certain requirements regarding training, education, and experience with assessing issues regarding a child’s physical and psychological health. Furthermore, a custody evaluator’s report is subject to formal requirements to assure transparency in their methodologies.
Illinois law requires an evaluator’s report to address the following:
- “a description of the procedures employed during the evaluation;
- a report of the data collected;
- all test results;
- any conclusions of the evaluator relating to the allocation of parental responsibilities or the child’s relocation; and
- an explanation of any limitations in the evaluation or any reservations of the valuator regarding the resulting recommendations.”
Custody evaluators are considered an extension of the court’s authority. A custody evaluator is meant to help the court consider factors and circumstances relevant to the best interests of a minor child. As an extension of the court’s authority, custody evaluators enjoy absolute immunity from lawsuits regarding their evaluations, so long as they stayed within the bounds of their duties. Without such immunity, a custody evaluator’s ability to provide objective insight into custody issues would be compromised if they had to worry about being liable for their evaluations.
However, an Illinois court is not bound by a custody evaluator’s report and recommendations when determining child custody issues. That is because Illinois law places the ultimate responsibility of determining issues affecting a child’s best interests with the court. In the end, the court has discretion as to whether to rely on the evaluator’s recommendations or not.
Consult the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel PC for Legal Advice
If you have concerns regarding a legal dispute revolving around parental responsibility and parenting time, you should consult an experienced attorney from the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, PC. When it comes to resolving child custody and visitation issues, you can count on us to promote and preserve your child’s best interests.
Schedule an appointment regarding your rights and interests by calling us at (312) 487-2795 or contacting us online today.