Sometimes parents cannot agree on how their children will share their time with them and make decisions regarding them. Sometimes mediation or other methods of alternative dispute resolution don't resolve all the issues. High levels of conflict in separating and divorcing couples often lead to court intervention to decide the parenting plan under which the children will live. This is when the Court may order a child custody evaluation of the family by a licensed mental health professional.
Custody evaluations are very intensive and comprehensive assessments of family dynamics and parenting capacity. A comprehensive custody evaluation includes multiple methods of data gathering including interviews with the parents, children, step-parents and/or significant others, observations of each child (both alone and interacting with each parent and other adults in their lives), home visits, histories of both the family and each individual, each parent's and child’s wishes about the parenting plan, psychological testing of each parent and adult, a review of all relevant documents, and information from collateral sources.