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What is a Custody Neutral Assessment?

Custody Neutral Assessment by Court Approved Mental Health Professionals

The Custody Neutral Assessment Program was developed by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part.  A custody neutral assessment, also referred to a CNA, is an assessment by a mental health professional which involves either an experienced psychologist or licensed social worker appointed by the court for the purposes of determining a resolution of custody and/or parenting time issues in an expedited manner, that is, within thirty (30) days after the completion of the evaluation.  Each county has a roster of approved psychologists and clinical social workers for the program.  The approved psychologists and clinical social workers have been trained by court personnel to fully understand the program.

The assessment usually takes place early on in the case and soon after mediation efforts have failed in a divorce.  The evaluation may also be helpful in non-divorce matters when a parent is seeking to change custody or parenting time, or a child is suddenly unwilling to participate in visits.

The Custody Neutral Assessment Process

The Custody Neutral Assessment provides a snap shot of the mental health picture of the family.  Each litigant is usually interviewed for  1 to 2 hours and then the children are interviewed twice with each parent having the opportunity to bring in the child.  If the child or children are not yet verbal, the professional may observe each litigant’s interactions with the children.  The professional may request to interview other individuals that have close contact with the child such as school personnel or therapist.

At the completion of the assessment, a report is sent directly to the court and the parties or their attorneys.  The Custody Neutral Assessment provides information and recommendations such as individual or family therapy, the need for a parenting coordinator, substance abuse treatment or evaluation, psychiatric evaluation, a referral for a bonding evaluation, and a referral for a full custody evaluation.  The report should clearly indicate the issues and the reasons for the dispute.

The Cost for the Custody Neutral Assessment

The assessment is done for a flat fee of about $1,000.00 paid prior to start of the assessment.  The fee is generally non-refundable.  If the parties can not agree to who will pay for the fee, the court will decide.  Generally, the fee is divided equally between the parties.  Additional fees may apply if additional interviews are required or if the evaluator is required to testify in court.

If either parent or litigant is unhappy with the assessment, either litigant has the option of retaining their own expert for the purpose of a full child custody evaluation.

A Custody Neutral Assessment should not be confused with a child custody evaluation.  A Custody Neutral Assessment does not include any standardized psychological testing or direct custody recommendations.  The Custody Neutral Assessment is limited but less costly than a child custody evaluation which ranges between $5,000-$10,000.00.  The Custody Neutral Assessment is a more expedited process than a full child custody evaluation that may take over 3 months to complete.  The Custody Neutral Assessment is a great tool to assess whether a full child custody evaluation is needed.  It is also a great tool to get disputing parties to an agreement.

Armour Law Firm – Child Custody Attorney

Armour Law Firm will provide you with the knowledge and experience to handle your custody dispute including the request and preparation for the Custody Neutral Assessment.  Contact us at 732-276-9499 for your free consultation.