So, you’ve been through the divorce complaint, you’ve been through temporary orders, you’ve been through mediation, and you’ve been through a custody evaluation.

Now comes the 4-903 conference. I won’t get in to what a 4-903 conference is generally. (You can read more about them here). Instead, I want to talk about how they’re structured. What happens when and whatnot.

4-903s start with everyone in the same room. By everyone, I mean parties and their attorneys, the mediator, the commissioner, and the custody evaluator.

The commissioner usually starts the process by quickly explaining the purpose of the 4-903, making sure everyone is comfortable, and setting a time by which the 4-903 needs to be completed. As soon as that is finished, the commissioner leaves and the custody evaluator takes over.

The custody evaluator begins by talking about each child, including strengths, weaknesses, how each child is adjusting, etc. This is meant to set the stage for providing recommendations regarding custody and parent-time.

The evaluator will also discuss everyone’s general living situations, schools, jobs, and other items that may influence the recommendations.

Things will then move to talking specifically about each parent.

The evaluator will usually start by discussing each person’s strengths, both as a person and as a parent. Both parents will be in the room for this part.

When the discussion moves to weaknesses, the parent not being discussed will usually be asked to leave. Why leave the room? Because, honestly, this weaknesses part can be pretty brutal. (Don’t worry about not knowing what goes on; all attorneys stay in the room. It’s only the spouse not being discussed that has to leave.)

During this weaknesses part, the evaluator will discuss psychological testing results, drug or alcohol histories, parenting weaknesses, and pretty much any other dirty laundry there might be.

When that’s over, everyone comes back together and the evaluator lays out his or her recommendations, which will be very detailed and specific. To support the recommendations, the evaluator will state the individual factors upon which they are based.

And when recommendations are finished, there’s usually a question-and-answer session to clarify the recommendations, to challenge the evaluator’s reasoning, and to float alternatives the evaluator might be comfortable with.

At this point, the evaluator’s work is done and mediation begins. You always make sure you have the evaluator’s number, in case you have follow-up questions, but other than that, it becomes a standard mediation. (For a refresher on mediation, read here.)

So, there you have it. Things might be a little different around the edges, but that’s the basic structure of a 4-903 conference.

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