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What Is a Custody Neutral Assessment (CNA)?

Custody Neutral Assessment has been implemented by some counties of the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey for the last few years. When parents cannot agree on custody or parenting time, this procedure is used. As part of this program, a child psychologist or clinical social worker interviews parents to identify and focus on the issues that are causing disputes. The average interview lasts between three and four hours. Children may also be interviewed, depending on their age. A report will be submitted to the appropriate family court judge who then releases the report to the parties’ attorneys.

We should understand the difference between a private custody evaluation and a report generated by the Custody Neutral Assessment Program. In short, this program does not perform any testing or review of documents (as a private custody evaluation would). It is an initial review that specifies the most pertinent issues that a judge of a New Jersey family court needs to know to make findings and resolutions in a child custody dispute. Substance abuse or mental health issues are examples of such issues. It would certainly be of paramount importance if the child had special needs.

Multiple psychologists and clinical social workers are interviewed by each county participating in the Custody Neutral Assessment Program. Those approved are then added to a court-approved list. These professionals are also trained by court personnel so they are fully aware of the program's parameters. Thereafter, either the parents or their respective NJ family law attorneys will select a professional from the court's list or the judge will appoint one. To participate in the program, the parties must pay $1,000. This program is more cost-effective compared to private child psychologists, whose fees may start at $5,000 and range upwards from there. This is the point at which the interviewing process begins. 

The report will highlight the primary disputes that are preventing parents from co-parenting their children effectively and make recommendations including, but not limited to, whether sole custody is necessary, whether a risk or substance abuse assessment is necessary for both parents, or whether a parent coordinator should be appointed so that the parents can work through their problems.

A Custody Neutral Assessment Program is intended to assist the court, the parents, and their respective family lawyers in resolving disputes between the parents. Both parties retain the right to hire a private expert to provide a comprehensive custody evaluation if the report fails to resolve the issue or they are dissatisfied with the report.

If you are reading this and have questions about divorce or a child custody dispute in New Jersey, don't go it alone. Call my office to schedule a free 20-minute call with me to discuss your case. 

The contents of this blog entry are provided for informational purposes only.  You should consult with an attorney to determine how the law applies to the facts of your particular case.  Reading this blog entry does not create an attorney-client relationship with Kelly McGriff.


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