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Court-Ordered Child Custody Evaluations in California

Sometimes when parents go their separate ways, decisions regarding parenting time and schedules are made by the parents themselves, or through the mediation process. However, there are often times when divorcing or separating parents will have a difficult time agreeing to any custody or visitation arrangements. These decisions become can become even more complicated when there are questions about a parent’s mental health, substance abuse, or history of physical or sexual abuse.

The court sometimes requires additional information about the parents before it is possible to determine the best arrangement for the children. When this happens, the court has the power to order child custody evaluations.

Who conducts a child custody evaluation?

Courts often have professionals who work under contract as child custody evaluators. These professionals are typically therapists, phycologists, and clinical social workers who have experience working with families. Sometimes a court will have a private psychologist or therapist work with a family to conduct the evaluation. These individuals are able to form expert opinions regarding what sort-of arrangement would be the most beneficial to the children, and can provide that opinion to the court. This is useful because it is not uncommon for parents in a custody battle to accuse the other parent of damaging behavior, or of abuse, even in cases where it might not have occurred. The court will value the opinion of an unbiased professional when trying to sort through the accusations being made by either side.

What do court-appointed evaluators look at when forming their opinions?

The appointed evaluator will go through all relevant documents in the case. This will mean a thorough review of court documents that have been filed by either side, but will also include things such as relevant police reports, medical records, educational records, and anything other documents that hold valuable information about the children and the parents.

Interviews will also likely be conducted. The evaluator will often interview both parents, either individually, together, or both. The children might be interviewed in an age-appropriate manner. Extended family members, childcare providers, and other individuals who have had relevant interactions with the children or parents might also be interviewed.

Sometimes the person conducting the evaluation will also observe interactions between the child and the parent or parents, and possible visit the homes of either or both parents.

Who will see the report?

The report is given to the judicial officer, and both parties, or the parties’ attorneys in the case, ten days prior to the court hearing. This report is never meant to be shared with the children. In instances where the evaluator has reason to suspect child abuse or neglect, he or she will file a report with Child Protective Services. If one of the persons evaluated makes a threat of physical violence against another person, the evaluator will report this threat to law enforcement and inform the person whom the threat was made against.

Can I speak with the evaluator?

The communications between the parties and the evaluator must only be made with the other party’s knowledge, or after a court order is made to instruct such communication.

Who pays for the evaluation?

The parties are typically responsible for the cost of the evaluation. The court may apportion the fees as they see fit, for instance, by making the party with significantly more resources pay a larger part of the fee.

Does the court have to listen to the recommendations made by the evaluator?

The court will consider the report that the evaluator prepares. The decision will ultimately be up to the court, but the evaluation is often given a great deal of weight.

If you are involved in a custody battle, you likely have many questions. The issues involved are complicated and stressful. It is important to have a strong advocate who is committed to working with you, protecting your rights, and helping you understand the legal process. Contact the attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox LLP today at 909-798-3300 for a consultation.



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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.