A Parenting/Visitation Evaluation, sometimes called a Child Custody Evaluation, is a comprehensive forensic investigation ordered by the Court, in which the psychologist provides an expert opinion regarding the most appropriate Parenting Plan. In Tennessee, our child custody law TCA § 36-6-106 stipulates 15 factors that shall be considered in making a child custody determination. Parenting Evaluations typically address a full range of psychological, custody, and shared parenting issues. They are frequently ordered by the Court when there are allegations of parental mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, child alienation, domestic violence, child abuse, and/or special needs children whose parents are seeking a contested divorce.

In the past, courts were guided by the Tender Years Doctrine resulting in mothers
routinely being awarded custody of the children, especially young children. Now the decision of which parent will be the primary residential parent is based on the
“best interests of the child”. Child custody evaluators are required to be neutral, and therefore, they should never evaluate a family with whom they have a prior relationship. The examination should be thorough, draw its conclusions from multiple sources, and employ scientifically proven methods. These complex assessments are only conducted by highly trained psychologists who are knowledgeable of both child and adult development, family dynamics, the affect of divorce on families, and family law as it pertains to child custody and parenting plans in Tennessee. While courts have traditionally given substantial weight to the findings of a thorough Parenting Evaluation, it should be remembered that it is exclusively the Judge in Family Court who makes child placement decisions. Dr. Sanders only performs parenting evaluations stipulated by both parents and then ordered by the Court.

Dr. Sanders adheres to the Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody
developed by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (2006) and the Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings developed by the American Psychological Association (2009). He is an active member in both of these professional organizations, as well as past president of the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society. Click here for a copy of Dr. Sandersʼ Curriculum Vitae.

A Parenting/Visitation Evaluation will include, but is not limited to, the following:


  • Individual and joint interviews with both parents and all children
  • Psychological testing of each family member
  • Home visits at each parent's home with children present
  • Interviews (and sometimes testing) with stepparents or significant others
  • Collateral interviews with professionals who have worked with family members, such as: physicians, mental health professionals, teachers, babysitters or child care workers
  • Review of court records, pertinent documents, audio, and videotapes, etc.
  • A detailed and comprehensive written report from which to base a Parenting Plan

Relocation (sometimes called Move Away) Issues

Family law judges and attorneys frequently describe Relocation cases as their most difficult to resolve. A Parenting/Visitation Evaluation is often ordered to assist in making a decision that is in the best interest of the child. When one parent wishes to move out of the area with the child, it can have a profound effect on a childʼs life and their relationship with the parent who is left behind. Case law reflects the dilemma these cases evoke. In Tennessee, parental relocation is governed by Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108, with different standards employed depending on whether parents spend equal or unequal time with the child.

Some psychologists believe no parent should ever be allowed to move a child away from the other parent, while others believe that the primary residential parent should be allowed to move at will, unless the move is designed to limit the other parentʼs contact with the child. Both of these strongly held beliefs are in conflict with practice standards that mandate the evaluator remain neutral and unbiased in his investigation. Every case is different and a “one size fits all” mindset does a disservice to the children involved and the unique needs of each family. Instead, a careful analysis weighing the pros and cons of a move on the well being of the child must be made and requires a high level of sensitivity to the following issues:


  • The parentʼs reasons and viable alternatives to the move
  • Financial resources and travel time as it relates to visitation
  • History of involvement with the child and current time share agreement
  • Both parentʼs effectiveness with the child and continuity of care
  • History of parental conflict
  • Which parent will best facilitate the other parentʼs contact with the child
  • The bond between siblings
  • Childʼs temperament and special needs
  • Effect on the child if the move occurs and if it does not occur
  • The childʼs wishes, if mature enough

Click Here for more detailed information about Parenting Evaluations as
conducted by Dr. Sanders. This link includes a fee schedule, Stipulations for Parenting/Visitation Evaluation and Informed Consent to Participate. The stipulations can be incorporated by attorneys as part of a court order.

Child Custody Law TCA 36-6-106
TCA 36-6-106 _Child Custody_.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [30.6 KB]
Determining the Best Interests of the Child
Best Interests of the Child.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [396.6 KB]
Model Standards for Child Custody Evaluations
Model Standards for Child Custody Evalua[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [170.1 KB]
APA Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations
APA Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluat[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [55.3 KB]
Curriculum Vitae
Dr. Sanders Vitae - 06_05_22 .pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [196.3 KB]
Parental Relocation Law TCA 36-6-108
Parental Relocation Law TCA 36-6-108.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [23.5 KB]
Parenting Evaluation Stipulations Conse[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [119.4 KB]
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© Dr. Michael Sanders