A child custody evaluation is a structured investigation of parents and children by a mental health professional, resulting in a written report about the family and recommendations for a custody and parenting plan as part of a divorce.
(Fam C §§3110-3118; Cal Rules of Ct 5.210(c)(2)). Judges order evaluations to obtain a neutral mental health professional’s assessment of the family, each parent’s capacity to parent, and the children’s needs and capabilities.
“Child Custody Evaluations” are occurring more and more frequently in recent years in Family Court proceedings and even mediations. They have evolved as a legal and psychological tool: where in prior years they were primarily ordered by a court in high conflict custody cases, now they are also commenced by friendly agreement of parents who want a comprehensive child custody expert’s opinion on the parenting plan in the best interest of their children.
There is no process more critical to the custody case than the custody evaluation. Judges usually rely heavily on the evaluator’s opinions and often adopt the evaluator’s recommendations with few or no changes.
Although a trial following the evaluation may sometimes result in a wholesale shift from the evaluator’s recommendations, more often than not it will modify the recommendations in certain respects but not reject them outright.
In a subsequent blog post I will be talking about different aspects of child custody evaluations, their costs, pitfalls, and advantages.