By law in California, both parents initially are considered to be equally
capable of raising their child in a healthy, safe environment. The law
also initially considers it is in the best interest of the child to have
maximum continuing contact with both parents. If the child-raising ability
of a parent is challenged, a judge will determine custody based on the
best interests of the child. To help determine what is in the best interests
of the child, the court may order a child custody evaluation before determining custody.
The evaluation will be provided by a professional family law evaluator
who has met specific requirements of qualifications, training, and continued
education as provided in the California Family Law Code.
The evaluation itself will be either a
evaluation (i.e. a comprehensive examination of the safety, welfare, health,
and best interests of the child), or a
examination limited by the court to either a certain amount of time or issue(s).
The evaluation process itself may include the following:
One or more interviews with the both parents; either together, individually,
Observations of the child's interactions with each of his/her parents;
One or more age-appropriate interviews with the child;
One or more interviews with other individuals who may have pertinent information
(such as the child's doctors, teachers, etc.);
The collection of documentation relevant to the evaluation (such as criminal
background checks, medical records, etc.)
After gathering the information, the evaluator will write a report based
on the information. The report usually includes a recommendation for how
custody should be determined. The evaluator will then send the report
to the court with copies to the attorneys of the parents or to the parents
themselves if acting in a pro per-status.
The judge will read the report including the recommendations provided and
all other evidence submitted by the parties, and make his or her decision
on the issue of custody.