Child custody evaluations
A child custody evaluation is an investigation of your child's health, safety, welfare, and best interests by a trained mental health professional (an evaluator). At the end of the investigation, the evaluator will provide a report to you and the judge with a recommendation for a parenting plan in your child's best interests.
In any case with serious allegations of child sexual abuse or child abuse, a lengthier evaluation is required. This type of evaluation will also include consultation with child welfare services and law enforcement and an investigation into the allegations. The evaluator's report will also include how to ensure the child's safety.
What happens in a child custody evaluation
The judge appoints a mental health professional to do an evaluation
If you and your child's other parent cannot agree on a parenting plan, the judge can order a child custody evaluation. Usually, parents pay a fee for the service.
The judge will appoint a child custody evaluator to do the investigation. A child custody evaluator is a trained psychologist or other mental health professional. The evaluator may be someone from the court (but not your mediator) or a private professional.
The judge needs more information: A judge may order an evaluation if they need more information to make a decision about a parenting plan that is in your child's best interests. They may also order one if your family court services mediator recommended it.
You or the other parent request one: A judge can also order one if you and your child's other parent asks for an evaluation.
Allegations of abuse: The judge must order an evaluation if there's been serious allegations of child sexual abuse or child abuse.
An investigation generally takes at least 2 months
During the investigation, the evaluator may
Meet with you, your child's other parent, and your child
The evaluator may want to speak with you individually or together. They may want to visit your home and observe you interact with your child.
Meet with adults who know your child well
The evaluator may speak with your child's teacher, daycare provider, doctors, and other adults who live in your home or know your child well.
Review your child's school and health records
The evaluator may look at your child's school, medical, dental, and mental health records.
Review any documents related to custody and safety
The evaluator may look at police reports, any court records, or reports from providers of anger management or parenting classes.
Ask for the parents to have a psychological evaluation
The evaluator may require you or the other parent to have a pychological evaluation.
If there are serious allegations of child sexual abuse or child abuse, the investigation will include more steps. For example, the evaluator must consult child welfare services and law enforcement and may request a medical exam of the child.
After the investigation, the evaluator will write a confidential report
The evaluator will write a report describing what they found in their investigation.
- The report will include a recommendation for a parenting plan
- The report is confidential, but by law, some professionals may view it
If there were serious allegations of abuse, the report will also include recommendations for how to ensure the child's safety and meet any theuraputic needs.
If you have a hearing date, you will get a copy of the report at least 10 days before the hearing.
You can ask for a court date (hearing) to explain your concerns to the judge. If you do not have a lawyer, you may want to speak with one.
If you have a complaint about the evaluator
If you have a complaint against an evaluator with Family Court Services, talk to the director of Family Court Services program in your court to find out about the complaint process.
If your complaint is about ethical conduct or licensing issues, there are state licensing boards that address complaints about licensed professionals. File a complaint with the Board of Behavioral Sciences or the Board of California Board of Psychology.
You can find more information about child custody evaluations in Form FL-329-INFO.