In New Mexico, there are typically three types of child custody evaluations that can occur when in a divorce or family law case. The first involves court-sponsored family court clinic programs. The second involves private child custody evaluation experts, court appointed 706 Experts. And, the last involves a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem. A combination of all three processes may be involved in determining custody arrangements.
The first type of evaluation in disputed custody situations involves referral to court-sponsored programs, like the Family Court Clinic program in the Second Judicial District Court. This program is also available in Rio Rancho and Santa Fe, as well as a few other district courts throughout the state. The advantage of using Court Clinic instead of a private custody evaluator (706 Expert) is the reduced costs. The disadvantage is the large backlog of cases and long waits for Court Clinic results.
The second option is the private custody evaluation with a Court Appointed 706 Expert. The parties can arrive at the private evaluation by a number of routes. The parties may agree to use a private 706 Expert for any number of reasons not the least of which is the expedited results. The parties may end up with a private 706 Expert because they have either exhausted the resources of Court Clinic or one of the parties will not agree to Court Clinic. The Court in these cases may on its own initiative or the Motion of one of the parties order a private 706 Child Custody Evaluation. The Court has broad discretion in the allocation of the costs of the private evaluation which can be very costly. Finally, one or both parties may disagree with the recommendations of Court Clinic. Typically, only one party will disagree with the Court Clinic outcome in which case that party may hire his or her own 706 Expert for a second opinion. Cases that get to this point are probably extremely high conflict, borderline out of control, and extremely expensive and stressful. It is highly advisable to avoid this situation.
However, there are cases that rise to this level of conflict. When this occurs, the parties generally have such a high degree of animosity toward one another that their decisions regarding the children are suspect to say the least. Because the parties cannot or will not work together for the best interests of the children, the court will often appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to protect the children‘s interests. The GAL is actually the attorney for the children and is charged with achieving the best interests of the children. The GAL is an arm of the court and the recommendations are largely conclusive.
Once a case has reached these last stages, the parties have completely lost control of their case and the decisions regarding their children. Not only do the parents have extremely limited decision-making over the children at this point, they have now embarked on a potentially financially and emotionally devastating path. There is no limit to the amount of attorney fees and costs that can be expended in these types of cases. The emotional toll on the parties and especially the children are frequently both permanent and profound. This is not the route to take in your child custody case.