Child Custody Evaluations in California
Parents in family court need a plan for caring for their child(ren) after they separate and when they divorce. When parents cannot agree on a parenting plan by themselves or with the help of a mediator, the judge will decide child custody and visitation at a hearing and may order a child-custody evaluation, also known as a 730 evaluation, to assist in this process. Or, a judge may order and evaluation in response to a a parent's asking for a child-custody evaluation. If the mental health of a parent is negatively influencing a child, the court may order a child-custody evaluation.
The California court is required to consider the best interests of a child. The evaluator is the court's own expert appointed under Evidence Code 730 and is neutral and independent. The child-custody evaluation is an investigation and analysis of the family by a licensed mental-health professional as to the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of the child. The professional evaluator may be a trained forensic psychologist or experienced mental-health provider, retained by both parent who share the fees equally or the fees are advanced from community funds. The evaluator interviews the parents and child(ren) and observes how their interactions and determines the psychological and physical well-being of the child, assessing the health, safety, welfare and best interests of the child under the current caretakers.
The main reasons a child custody evaluation can be ordered include:
- Suspicions of child abuse or neglect
- Alcoholism or substance abuse
- Mental health problems
- Questionable parenting practices
- High conflict between parents
An evaluator is an impartial observer of the dynamics between the parents and the child, to objectively determine how the best interests of the child are being addressed and to make recommendations. Child custody and visitation orders are often based on the findings of a child custody evaluation. For example, an evaluator may make recommendations regarding the following issues:
- Legal custody: who makes major decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare;
- Physical custody: with whom the child lives;
- Parenting plan or visitation: the schedule of when the child spends time and with each parent;
- Supervised visitation: whether visitation should be supervised and by whom or by what type of program and the duration;
- Safety issues: the protection of the child in cases involving allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse;
- Child-custody modification: whether an existing child custody order should be changed and how to modify
- Therapy and/or Counseling: the duration that either parent or both parents should be required to attend parenting, co-parenting, domestic violence, substance abuse, rehabilitation, or other programs; and/or for the child(ren) individually;
The evaluator will conduct a full or limited-scope investigation, which may include all or part of the following in his or her investigation:
- Review documents related to custody, including local police reports, and juvenile court records;
- Review the child’s medical, dental, mental-health, and/or other health-care records and school and educational records;
- Observe parent-child interactions, interview each parent, the child, the child’s family members, and others who have or had contact with the child;
- Interview professionals who provide or have provided care for the child;
- Consult with other experts;
- Depending on each child’s age and maturity, the evaluator may consider observing and talking with the child.
To learn more about child custody evaluations, contact our Carlsbad family law attorneys today. We have the skills and experience necessary to help your family.