What are child custody evaluations?
When the parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court may enlist the help of a professional evaluator to make recommendations after observations and testing.
Child custody evaluations are often appointed in cases where there are:
- High conflict
- Parental Alienation
- Domestic Violence
- Special Needs
However, if the parties cannot agree to the issues of custody, either party may requset the appointment of an evaluator.
Evidence Code 730
There are different code sections which discuss child custody evaluations. For example, Evidence Code 730 states, “When it appears to the court, at any time before or during the trial of an action, that expert evidence is or may be required by the court or by any party to the action, the court on its own motion or on motion of any party may appoint one or more experts to investigate, to render a report as may be ordered by the court, and to testify as an expert at the trial of the action relative to the fact or matter as to which the expert evidence is or may be required. The court may fix the compensation for these services, if any, rendered by any person appointed under this section, in addition to any service as a witness, at the amount as seems reasonable to the court.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a person to perform any act for which a license is required unless the person holds the appropriate license to lawfully perform that act.”
Practitioners may refer to these evaluations as “730 evaluations” in reference to the code sections.
Family Code 3111
Family Code 3111(d) states, “In a contested proceeding involving child custody or visitation rights, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to conduct a child custody evaluation in cases where the court determines it is in the best interest of the child. ”
Rules of Court 5.225
Rules of Court 5.225 sets forth the appointment requirements for child custody evaluators
(c) Licensing requirements
A person appointed as a child custody evaluator meets the licensing criteria established by Family Code section 3110.5(c)(1)-(5), if:
(1) The person is licensed as a:
(A) Physician and either is a board-certified psychiatrist or has completed a residency in psychiatry;
(C) Marriage and family therapist;
(D) Clinical social worker; or
(E) Professional clinical counselor qualified to assess couples and families.
After the evaluator is appointed, they will go over the protocol followed. The children are interviewed, both with and without theparents. The paretns are interviewed. And sometimes collaterals contacts (such as nannies, doctors, schoolteachers, counselors, other family members) are interviewed, if necessary.
When the evaluator asks for collateral references, it is wise to provide them with names, emails, phone number and addresses, as well as the best time and way to reach them. It is a good idea to let the collateral contacts know in advance that the evaluator will be calling. When you choose collaterals, remember to focus on the ones whose observations can help corrobate your parenting plan and styles – dates are extremely important.
Is this the same as a Parenting Plan Assessment?
In Los Angeles county, the courts adopted a 1 or 2 day assessment to be done at the court, known as Parenting Plan Assessments.
One major difference between aprivate child custody evaluation and the parenting plan assessment is psychological testing.
Are the findings of the evaluator final?
If you do not agree with the findings, all hope is not lost. You will receive the report prior to the court hearing and you will have the opportunity to cross-examine the evaluator on qualifications, foundation, and findings.
Confidentiality of the Report
The child custody report is confidential. Unwarranted release and disclosure of its contents could subect the parties’ and their attorneys to sanctions.