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What is a child custody evaluation?

The emotional status of children is a crucial issue in many California divorces. If the mental health of a child is disputed by the parents or if the court has other reasons to inquire, the court may order a child custody evaluation. Judges use the evaluations to assist them in determining the "health, safety, welfare and best interest of children with regard to disputed child custody and visitation issues."

The evaluation uses a court-appointed investigator, who can be a probation officer, a domestic relations investigator or other evaluator chosen by the court to conduct the evaluation and report the findings to the court. The scope and nature of the evaluation is usually defined by the court in the order that requires the evaluation. The evaluator's final report is filed with the court and served upon the parties or their attorneys and upon any independent counsel representing the child.

The evaluator is given a copy of the court order requiring the evaluation, and the evaluation must conform to the directions in the order. In preparing the final report, the evaluator must describe the purpose of the evaluation and the procedures used to gather information. The evaluator usually observes the child in different sessions, including with the parents. The evaluator will also consider evidence of child abuse, substance abuse and domestic violence in making recommendations. Evaluators are also bound by strict ethical requirements.

A person going through a divorce whose child is going to be the subject of a court-ordered evaluation may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney about the process. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide an explanation of the process, assist in voicing objections to the evaluation and in using the evaluation once the report is submitted to the court.

Source: courts.ca.gov, "2018 California Rules of Court," accessed on March 26, 2018

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