In cases where parents disagree about who should have primary physical custody, Courts prefer that a mental health professional, trained in the area of custody evaluations, review a case before it is brought to trial. Private custody evaluations tend to be extremely costly and time consuming. Bucks County offers an alternative to the traditional evaluation process call Court Conciliation and Evaluation Services (CCES). CCES generally takes 2-3 months to complete. It is about 5-6 meetings, one individually for each parent, some joint sessions, at least one session involving the child(ren) and optional sessions with people who are greatly involved with the child(ren), such as new spouses or grandparents. CCES strives to assist parents in resolving their dispute themselves but will make a recommendation with a written report if an agreement is not reached. The parties agree in advance that the Court can read and consider the report but the evaluator cannot be called to testify.
The following information is provided by Court Conciliation and Evaluation Service (CCES)
Sequence and Structure of CCES Sessions
Initial interviews (Petitioner usually interviewed first)
Objective: To obtain relevant information and to offer client an opportunity to present his/her concerns
- Explanation of CCES goals and objectives and sequence and purpose of each interview
- Current living situation, present custody arrangement, employment information
- What custody arrangement is best for child(ren) and why. What concerns do they have regarding other parent, children, other party’s family, significant other
- History of relationship
- Family history
- Questions re: physical health, criminal history, drug/alcohol use, mental health, possession of firearms, financial information, parenting strengths and weaknesses (self and other parent)
Joint parent interview #1
Objective: Review/clarify factual information and each party’s position re: custody and other concerns, explain concepts related to good co-parenting, set date time and structure for child interview.
Child interview(s). Interviews structured based on age and psychological development of child and unique circumstances of each case. Sometimes more than one interview is needed.
Objective: To assess child’s physical/emotional health, attachment to parents, perception of each parent, interaction between parent and child (when appropriate), child’s perception of school, peer relationships, child’s perception of parents’ relationships. Asses child’s ability to make “well reasoned” judgments about custody and parents’ strengths and weaknesses.
Joint parent interview #2
Objective: Discuss child interview (s) and begin to develop parenting plan. Evaluator presents clinical data to parents regarding child. Specific concerns raised by parents in earlier sessions are addressed. Parents are encouraged to develop strategies for meeting children’s needs: counseling, participation in community activities, academic concerns, problematic interaction with parents or step parents and step siblings.
Objective: Obtain information that will enable evaluator to assess collateral clients Explain “Collateral Consent form” and ask client to sign it. Obtain relevant psychological and social information. Address specific issues/concerns expressed by the parties. Invite collateral to express his/her opinions/perceptions of parents and children. Assess collateral’s role in family and extent to which he/she contributes to positive or negative interaction with parents and children.
Joint parent interview # 3
Objective: Develop parenting plan, and continue to work with parents in an effort to improve co-parenting.
The evaluator will summarize interviews with collaterals. Evaluator is attempting to engage parents in productive communication that will result in a Parenting Plan that meets the children’s needs and best interests. Evaluator shares his/her conclusions about parents and children. Evaluator does not make recommendations about custody, but will make observations regarding parents’ and children’s needs, strengths and weaknesses.