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 full evaluation (i.e. a comprehensive examination of the safety, welfare, health, and best interests of the child), or a focused 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, and/or both;
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.