Be active. Do not expect the evaluator to gather info that helps you. Do what you can to get that info to the evaluator.
Gather witnesses. As soon as possible after finding out who the evaluator is, give them a written list of names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone with helpful info about you as a parent (or about the other parent’s problems). These are your “witnesses.” The best are “professionals” or “neutral” people such as teachers, counselors, doctors, daycare providers, landlords, and so on. Friends, neighbors and family can also help. Some evaluators will not contact witnesses who are not professionally involved with you or your family. Let your witnesses know the GAL might be contacting them. Make sure this is okay with them. Explain that they must return the evaluator’s phone calls right away. (The evaluator may not try to call multiple times.)
If the evaluator does not contact a witness you think has important info, ask the witness to write a declaration, letter or statement describing you as a parent, the other parent’s problems, or the children. Give the evaluator and other parent (or their lawyer) each a copy. File the original with the court. Keep a copy with your records. Under the law, both parents can look at the evaluator’s file. If there is a reason the other parent should not know a witness’s name or address, blank out that info on their copy of anything you send the evaluator. An evaluator might overlook safety and confidentiality for you and others. You must bring these issues to the evaluator’s attention.
Gather records. Get as much written evidence as you can to show you are a good parent, or to prove the other parent’s abusive conduct or other problems. The evaluator does not do this for you! The other parent and their lawyer will have access to all or most info you give the evaluator.
Some documents that can help prove the other parent’s abusive conduct, substance abuse, and/or violence:
- Criminal records
- Police reports
- Medical records (yours, even if you did not tell the doctor that the other parent caused the injuries; the children’s, if related to abuse)
- Sex offender treatment records for the other parent
- Protection orders, no-contact orders, including the petition for protection order and any declarations you used to get the order (even if the orders have expired)
- Protection orders or other family law records about the other parent abusing another spouse or partner or other children
- Photos of you or the children with bruises or injuries
- Apology or hate letters the other parent wrote you
Some documents that can help regarding your parenting:
- School attendance records and grades
- Daycare records showing you picked up or dropped off the children
- Medical records showing you took the children for medical care
- Certificates from parenting classes and so on
- Declarations from teachers, counselors, daycare providers, babysitters, coworkers, doctors, neighbors, friends, or relatives about your parenting skills
Help the evaluator understand you. Some evaluators have little experience with people who are different from them. If you are a refugee or immigrant, person of color, or are culturally or religiously different from the average white American, the evaluator may not understand your culture. Look for someone from your community or church to speak with the evaluator and explain cultural dynamics the evaluator may not understand.
- Example: In your culture, it is common for parents to let children stay for long periods with grandparents and other relatives. You could ask someone from your community to talk with the evaluator about that.
Professionals such as community advocates or teachers make the best witnesses, but even a neighbor or friend could help.