California Child Custody Evaluations

Custody evaluations are assessments done by mental health professionals to determine what is in a child's best interest. In California courts, you may hear them called "730 evaluations" or "3110 evaluations," referring to the sections of state code that govern them.

Evaluations can be requested by a parent, recommended by a court mediator or ordered by a judge on his or her own accord. While they vary in length and focus, their end result is a confidential report that includes an official recommendation to the court.

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Common reasons for evaluations

Evaluations can be ordered by a court anytime an investigation into a family's circumstances would help decide the best parenting arrangement for a child. Concerns about the following often prompt custody evaluations:

  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • A child with special needs
  • A parent moving a child out of state
  • Questionable parenting

Selecting an evaluator

Superior courts either have evaluators on staff or keep a list of local evaluators who have registered with the state and completed necessary training. Evaluators can be psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or licensed clinical social workers.

Occasionally, the judge on a case selects an evaluator. More often, the judge asks the parties for input, sometimes having one party choose three options, from which the other party makes a final decision. Many times the opposing lawyers call evaluators together to ask about areas of expertise, methods and approaches.

Full evaluations

A traditional custody evaluation can include interviews with the parents and children, psychological tests, home visits, interviews with other people who know the family, and a review of documents ranging from school files to health records. The evaluator is expected to use whatever sources necessary to assess each custody issue in a case.

Full evaluations take weeks to months to complete. Evaluators' hourly fees range from $100 to $400, often adding up to $1,000 to $50,000 in total. The court determines which party pays the fees, if both parties split costs, or if neither is able.

Brief assessments and focused-issue evaluations

In an effort to make evaluations quicker and less expensive, some counties use abbreviated versions when possible. The details are decided by the judge, lawyers, parents and evaluator.

Brief assessments, also called mini-evaluations, are a sped-up form of an evaluation. The evaluator usually does brief home visits and short interviews with the parents and kids, possibly conducting simple psychological tests. There is no in-depth review of files and documents.

Similarly, focused-issue evaluations ask the evaluator to look at only one issue in a child custody case ― for example, how a parent's move out of state might affect a child.

Both forms of evaluations may last anywhere from a few hours to a month. Evaluators often charge flat fees for these options, ranging from $500 to $5,000. In some cases, evaluators trying to gain experience may even do them for free.

Special circumstances

Some custody cases require more than one evaluator or subject expert.

For example, one evaluator might look at a specific issue like substance abuse while another makes the overall custody recommendation. Psychological testing must be done by a trained psychologist, so it can also require the involvement of second expert if the first is not qualified. Evaluators can also consult with professionals who have worked with the family in the past, such as social workers, therapists or doctors. (Parents are required to sign release of information forms in these cases.)

Evaluators today are on the lookout for a behavior called parental alienation, and some even specialize in it. It's when one parent attempts to distort their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims and manipulation. If an evaluator identifies parental alienation, they will usually recommend therapy for the family members involved, as well as gradually-increasing parenting time or even sole custody for the alienated parent.

Evaluators can recommend a child be represented by his or her own lawyer, subject to the judge's final decision. Most often evaluators make this recommendation for cases involving child abuse, child neglect, substance abuse or especially serious conflict. Called a child counsel, the attorney investigates what would be in the child's best interest in terms of health, safety and general well-being.

If you have a complaint to make against your evaluator, you can contact your county's Family Court Services Department, then speak to your judge during a hearing, if necessary. If the complaint is about ethical or licensing issues, you can contact the relevant state licensing board, such as the Board of Behavioral Sciences or the California Board of Psychology. See how to object to a evaluator's final report below.

Tips for parents going through an evaluation

  • Prepare with an attorney or legal professional.
  • Take all interactions with the evaluator seriously. Arrive on time, dress neatly, be prepared with documents, etc.
  • Always show that your children are a priority in your life. Keep their interests and needs at the forefront, rather than your own.
  • Remember your words and actions will go into a report. Treat the evaluator with respect, and don't argue.
  • Be honest.
  • Recognize both your strengths and your weaknesses as a parent.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Don't coach your children, but you can encourage them to practice what they would like to say.
  • Be forthcoming with any questions you have.
  • Consider providing letters of support from your contacts. Although evaluators don't usually value their content highly, letters can demonstrate commitment to the process.

Evaluator's report

Once the evaluator has finished assessing a family's situation, he or she will compile the findings into a confidential report that includes an official custody recommendation. The report cannot be accessed by anyone who is not involved in the case.

At least 10 days before the next hearing, the report is shared with the court and with both parties' lawyers (or with the parties themselves, if self-represented). It becomes one of the factors a judge considers when deciding a case.

If either party objects to the report, they can question the evaluator during a trial. In addition, they can ask other mental health professionals to testify during the trial about any issues they see with the report.

Staying organized

Evaluations add complexity to an already-complex process.

Throughout your case, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft custody schedules, track time with your child, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place. With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, a digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody and visitation.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My California Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My Plan

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My California Plan Now

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