What Is an Independent Child Custody Evaluation?

What Is an Independent Child Custody Evaluation?
California judges have the right to order child custody evaluations any time they believe doing so would be in the “best interest of the child.” Often, judges order evaluations when the parties cannot agree about child custody.  This blog will discuss why evaluations are ordered, who conducts evaluations, and what evaluators do.

Why Are Child Custody Evaluations Ordered?

Whenever children are involved in a divorce or separation, emotions run incredibly high.  Sometimes, the parents are able to set their emotions aside and make custody and visitation decisions in the best interest of their children.  However, it can be very stressful to deal with child-related decisions during this difficult time.

Child custody evaluations are always ordered if the judge finds that there are serious allegations of child abuse.  They may also be ordered when any of the following concerns are present:

  • Mental health;
  • Substance abuse;
  • Parenting in a way that may negatively affect the parties’ child; and
  • A possible parent move or relocation.

Who Conducts Child Custody Evaluations?

By law, only a qualified evaluator may conduct court-ordered custody investigations.  People licensed in the following professions may serve as child custody evaluators:

  • Clinical social workers;
  • Psychologists;
  • Psychiatrists; and
  • Marriage and family therapists.

Evaluators are not eligible unless they are included on an approved panel or approved by the judge as meeting the requisite qualifications.

What Does the Evaluator Do?

The evaluator’s job is to pull together evidence the judge will use to make custody and visitation decisions and to make recommendations based on that evidence.  To do this, the evaluator considers the following:

  • Written documents, including medical records, as necessary, and any from social services or law enforcement agencies;
  • His or her observations of family members;
  • The results of his or her interviews with the parents, children, and other witnesses, as necessary; and
  • Psychological assessments.

The evaluator packages this information into a detailed written report for the judge.  The judge then uses the information to determine what custody and visitation arrangements are in the best interest of the child.

Child custody evaluations can be very stressful in a time that is already laden with emotions.  As you might imagine, having an experienced family lawyer by your side can help ease that stress and make a difference in the outcome of custody and visitation proceedings.  For something this important, you want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.