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Attorney explains factors in custody evaluations

6:46 PM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Hundreds of custody cases are heard at the Duval County Courthouse every year and many require custody evaluators to help the judge make a decision.

"I take it real seriously because I understand that the recommendation that I make can truly affect the direction of the child's entire life," said attorney Robert Wood.

Wood has evaluated about one hundred custody cases. He has practiced family law for 23 years and said one of the best things about being an evaluator is meeting the children.

"I meet a lot of great kids," said Wood. "It's one of the great things of doing these evaluations -- some of the kids are amazing."

In some custody cases, the court appoints a social investigator to make a recommendation for parental custody. In Duval County, attorneys can also conduct the evaluations. Both parents are interviewed and can provide witnesses.  

Materials such as police reports and court files may be included. The evaluator has to include a summary of how each parent meets the state statutes.

Wood said evaluating these cases could take months, like it did with Cherish Perrywinkle's case. He began his evaluation in 2009 and completed the report in 2010. However difficult it is to make a recommendation, Wood never asks a child which parent he or she prefers. 

"It's already hard enough for children to see their parents splitting up," said Wood. " I don't ask them directly because I just think it's really inappropriate to involve a kid in the case."

Once the evaluator makes a recommendation, the judge makes the ultimate decision. Not all custody cases require an evaluator.

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