Custody Evaluation Questions
From a seminar presented to the Indianapolis Bar Association Family Law
Section by Jonni L. Gonso, Ph.D., HSPP, Clinical Psychologist.
10 Questions often used in formulating recommendations for child
• Which parent is more likely to permit the non-residential parent free and
easy access to the child and to foster a healthy relationship between the
child and the non-residential parent?
• Which parent has better parenting skills? These include having good
communication skills, being good at setting limits, being consistent with
discipline, being able to express warmth and affection, having an
appreciation for the child’s age and gearing expectations accordingly,
fostering independence and giving praise where appropriate.
• Which parent is least likely to be abusive, neglectful or unstable on the
basis of a past history of psychiatric problems, alcohol or drug use,
abusiveness or neglect with this child or other children or a pattern of
choosing partners with such a history?
• Who has done the work of primary caretaker and knows best the child’s
needs, aversions and likes and dislikes? The primary caretaker also knows
best the child’s medical history, teachers’ names and reputations, friends’
names, secret fears, favorite toy, favorite method of getting to sleep and
other idiosyncratic information that is important to the child.
• To whom is the child more attached, assuming the child is age 11 or
younger? Who does the child prefer if the child is age 12 or older and
• Who has the most time and energy available to give to the child? Which
parent travels, works at night or is on-call for emergencies at work or has
physical limitations that impairs his or her daily activities?
• Which parent has the healthier relationship with the child? In this
relationship the parent is not enmeshed and not disengaged, sets
appropriate boundaries, separates the child’s needs from his or her own
personal needs and carefully weighs the impact of his or her decisions on
the child before acting.
• Which parent can provide a better quality of life for the child in terms of
siblings, step-parents, grandparents, home and neighborhood, schools,
church, and so on?
• Does the child have special needs? Does the child need medical
treatment, psychological treatment, a great deal of structure and firm
limits, a lot of one-on-one attention? Does the child have an intellectual
gift or learning disability? Which parent can better address these needs?
• Which parent is a better fit on the basis of a number of factors? What is
the child’s temperament and personality? Is he or she outgoing and
boisterous, reserved and bookish, very physical and athletic? Which
parent is a better fit temperamentally? Which parent is a better fit in terms
of mutual interests? Which parent is a better fit purely on the basis of
7 Factors considered in making recommendations for child custody evaluations:
• Continuity and stability of living arrangements
• Children’s preference
• Child’s attachment to each parent
• Each parent’s sensitivity to and respect for the child
• Parent and child gender
• Each parent’s physical and mental health
• Parental conflict