Q: Can Dr. Alexander perform a child custody evaluation for my family?
A: In New Mexico, child custody evaluations are also referred to as Rule 11-706 Evaluations.
The goal of any child custody evaluation is to determine the best interests of the child/children. This can include a variety of areas such as:
- Should a child live with one or both parents;
- Should a child be in the primary custody of the father or mother;
- Which school or educational type is best for the child;
- Should the child receive specialized medical/mental health services;
- Should limits be placed on whether a child spends time with certain others (siblings, step-parents, grandparents, etc.);
- Guardianship with grandparents or other family members;
- Can the child move with a parent to a new community or state.
Dr. Alexander only performs a few child custody evaluations per calendar year. All procedures take place in his office in Rio Rancho.
Please note that Dr. Alexander does not conduct second opinion evaluations in child custody matters.
Q: How easy is it to schedule a child custody evaluation with Dr. Alexander?
A: Dr. Alexander only performs a few child custody evaluations per calendar year. This is because these evaluations are very time-intensive and are not the sole focus of Dr. Alexander's practice.
In addition, parties wanting a child custody evaluation with Dr. Alexander will need to keep the following in mind:
- Dr. Alexander only performs child custody evaluations in New Mexico and only when appointed to do so by District Court;
- Pre-authorization is required before the court can appoint Dr. Alexander to perform the evaluation;
- No procedures commence until (a) Dr. Alexander receives a copy of the court order, and (b) all parties have given written consent and paid their retainer
Q: What procedures are involved in a child custody evaluation?
A: Before agreeing to participate in a child custody evaluation, parents are encouraged to read "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings." This can be accessed online:
While the standards and parameters contained within this document are geared toward child custody professionals, the information will help you understand what a child custody evaluation entails, as well as what its limitations are.
At a minimum, a child custody evaluation will include an in-depth interview with one or both parents, as well as parent-child observations.
Other procedures might--but not always--include:
- Psychological testing of one or both parents;
- Psychological/educational testing of the child;
- Classroom observation of the child;
- Home visit;
- Criminal background checks;
- Speaking or meeting with collateral sources.
Because Dr. Alexander is a child psychologist, greater weight is given to issues that directly affect the kid(s) than to peripheral issues. In other words, this is a child-centered process throughout. This can sometimes be frustrating for parents, who want the evaluator to focus more on the various faults and limitations of the other parent than how the child is doing.
In addition, Dr. Alexander takes a forward-looking approach to these evaluations. Thus, greater emphasis is placed on how to move things forward in a positive direction for the child, rather than getting bogged down on circumstances from the past.
Q: How do I prepare for a child custody evaluation?
A: During the initial interview, you will basically be asked to provide (a) a relationship history between you and the child's other parent; (b) a developmental history of the child; and (c) an accounting of concerns about the child and his/her other parent.
This can be taxing on one's short-term memory, especially if the children are older or if the story is excessively complex.
In advance of your first appointment, it will be helpful if you can write down key dates, life events, and concerns that you want to discuss with Dr. Alexander.
Inevitably, child custody evaluations entail a high number of accusations, which often fall into the classification of 'he-said/she-said.' Greater weight is given to accusations that can substantiated. Therefore, if you can, obtain copies of:
- Police reports
- Restraining orders
- Child protection reports
- Teacher reports
- Physician reports/summaries
- Court-ordered treatment plans
- Psychological reports
- Criminal background checks
At times, Dr. Alexander will want to speak with collateral sources who know the child and family. More typical, however, is that Dr. Alexander will want these individuals to put their observations or concerns in writing.
Keep in mind that a child custody evaluation can be a lengthy process. Therefore, it usually is not advisable to make key decisions pertaining to the child's life while the process is underway unless you have been given the ok to do so by the court.
Q: What can I expect to pay for an evaluation of this nature?
A: National surveys show that child custody evaluations typically cost between $3,000 and $15,000. This amount only includes the procedures and report, but not deposition or court testimony.
In other words, a child custody is not inexpensive and no part of it is covered by insurance.
Dr. Alexander's retainer for a child custody evaluation is $2000. All procedures are billed on an hourly rate of $175.00/hr. This includes interviews, testing, scoring, records review, report writing, and travel.
Dr. Alexander charges $295/hr for deposition (to include a minimum charge for 2 hours for preparation).
Dr. Alexander charges $295.00/hr for court testimony [$200.00 for in-court time when he is present, but not on the stand].
All fees are due before the written report is released or before Dr. Alexander testifies.
All fees will include New Mexico gross receipts tax.
Q: What is included in the contract I will need to sign?
A: Principles of confidentiality and privilege do not apply within the context of an assessment such as this. Information provided by you, regardless of the form in which it has been provided, may be shared with others involved in the evaluation. Statements made by children may have to be cited in my advisory report and it is, therefore, important that you not mislead your child(ren). Do not tell a child that what is said to me is confidential; it is not. Office staff must check my telephone messages, read my mail, and type my correspondence and reports. Those who work for me receive instruction in matters related to confidentiality. Jurisdictions differ with regard to whether my report will be released to the adult parties. If you receive a copy of the report, you are discouraged from giving it to people at the child’s school, as it can otherwise remain in the education file for quite some time.
My retainer is $2,000.00 It is important to note that this does not represent the total cost of the evaluation. A comprehensive evaluation entails various services, fees for which cannot be fully specified in advance. All evaluation-related services are billed at $175.00/hour or fraction thereof. Deposition, time in Court, and Court testimony is billed at $295.00/hour or fraction thereof, typically to include a minimum of two hours of preparation/file review time. New Mexico Gross Receipts tax is charged for all in-state services. In calculating fees for my services, no distinction is made between time expended in administrative matters and time expended in providing psychological services. Full fees are charged for cancellations and no-shows. My final report is not released to any party until all fees have been paid in full.
My services as an evaluator commence with my acceptance of the assignment to conduct an evaluation. Once an evaluation has been concluded, fees paid may be reapportioned through negotiations among the parties and their attorneys or by Court Order. However, while the evaluation is in progress, fees cannot be apportioned based upon what was done for whom. All work relating to the assessment is done in order to obtain as much relevant information as possible and cannot be viewed as work done for one party only.
Limitations, Risks, and Services Not Provided
The profession of psychology has not developed specific methods and procedures for use in assessing comparative custodial fitness and neither the profession of psychology nor the State of New Mexico has established specific criteria. The criteria that I employ and the methods and procedures that I utilize have been chosen by me.
Unless instructed by the Court, I will, as the evaluation progresses, share information with the Guardian ad Litem if one has been appointed. Subsequent to the completion of my evaluation and prior to the preparation of my advisory report, I am willing to confer with the attorneys if such a conference is desired by all and not objected to by the Court. Detailed information concerning my findings, however, will be communicated in writing only. Be aware that the dispute is not always resolved with the issuance of my report. Though the information provided and opinions expressed are intended to assist the Court, the Court may reject all or portions of the information provided. Also recognize that the possibility exists that, even after having completed a thorough examination of the key issues, I may not be able to offer an opinion with a reasonable degree of professional certainty.
It must be understood that I cannot provide psychological or parenting advice to individuals whom I am evaluating. This includes feedback or advice regarding child rearing, co-parenting, stepfamilies, discipline, schooling, etc. If counseling or psychotherapy services are desired, I will be pleased to provide the names of appropriate professionals.
Unless I have been directed otherwise by the Court, I will presume that all items in the case file are discoverable (that is, subject to examination) by both parties, their attorneys, the attorney for the child(ren), and any expert(s) who may have been retained by counsel for either party. In the event of a trial, unless I have been directed otherwise by the Court, all items in the case file will be brought with me to Court any day that I am scheduled to offer testimony.
It is expected that when individuals being evaluated come to my office for the purpose of taking psychological tests they will arrive unaccompanied. Spouses, children, companions, and friends can serve as sources of distraction. In most instances, you may remain in the building when I am administering tests to your child. Unless otherwise agreed upon, however, you may not sit in on the testing process.
Individuals being evaluated must agree to authorize me to obtain any documents that I may wish to examine and to authorize communication between me and any individuals who, in my judgment, may have information bearing upon the subject of the assessment. In most cases, information needed from professionals (teachers, other mental health practitioners, etc.) will be obtained in writing. Individuals who are likely to be advocates for one party or the other will be expected to provide information in writing.
Allegations of Abuse or Neglect
It must be understood that I am required by law to report allegations of abuse or neglect. If allegations are made, they will be reported and my action in reporting them must not be interpreted as a display of support for the individual who has made the allegations or as an indication that I disapprove of the alleged actions of the person who has been accused. Most importantly, it must not be inferred that my reporting of such allegations suggests that I find them credible. If it should become necessary for me to report allegations of abuse or neglect to a child protection agency, the financially responsible party/parties will be billed for any time expended in filing the report, being interviewed, etc.
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