Child custody decisions are difficult! As a law practice rooted in helping families arrive at a resolution that serves the best interest of a child, we admit it is a process that is emotionally draining. A family struggling with the grief from the separation must also make important decisions affecting the interests of each parent and the child.
Specifically, in contested custody proceedings, where parents are asserting conflicting interests, we often deal with a complex issue around the determination of the child’s best interests. For reasons such as concerns about parenting practices, the child’s upbringing, child abuse, substance abuse, and even when parents cannot agree on a custodial arrangement, a Court may require a Child Custody Evaluation. Parents can also enter into an agreement and stipulate to have a Child Custody Evaluation.
The Court may select a qualified mental health professional as a Child Custody Evaluator, or the two parties can agree on an evaluator.
During the Child Custody Evaluation process, evaluators collect and examine information on the parents, the child, and the parenting practices of each parent. Evaluators work as impartial examiners guided solely by the best interests of the child and offer opinions on each parent’s custody, parenting, and access to the child. The evaluator’s report serves as an important resource for the court, the parties, and the parties’ attorneys about custody and parenting.
Evaluators are required to lodge their report with the Court clerk and copies are served on the parties and their attorneys at least ten (10) days before the next hearing. The evaluator’s report is confidential and NOT to be made public. In one of our cases, the evaluator required compliance with pre-conditions by the other party, before the report was made available to the Court, the parties, and the attorneys. When the other party failed to timely comply with the pre-conditions, we were able to obtain an ex-parte order from the Court for the enforcement of the evaluator’s pre-conditions for the release of the Child Custody Evaluation report.
Evaluation reports contain psychological evaluations of a child and recommendations affecting custody and visitation and are thus placed in the confidential portion of a court file. Parties are sanctioned for making reckless or malicious disclosures of the content of the report.
In the absence of an agreed upon parenting schedule, the recommendations of the Evaluator guide the Court to make orders affecting custody and visitation rights. The Court weighs the report with other facts and evidence in the case to issue child custody and visitation orders.
Please note that California law and public policy favor the child’s frequent and continuing contact with both parents. This policy will thus be reflected in the Court’s custody and visitation order. Evaluators also pay attention to a behavior previously known as parental alienation which has now evolved into an analysis of “Refuse and Resist”. A finding of “Refuse and Resist” is made when a parent intentionally acts to negatively impact a child’s relationship with the other parent through false narratives, emotional manipulation, and obstructing activities and visitation time between the child and the other parent. If the evaluator finds that one parent is engaging in parental alienation, then the evaluator may recommend and the court may order therapy for the parents and the child, and a detailed parenting schedule that allows the alienated parent to reintegrate with the child. In some instances, evaluators may even recommend sole custody of the alienated parent. Parental alienation or “Refuse and Resist” as a consideration for evaluators is an example of special circumstances that evaluators address during their work. Ultimately, the efforts of the evaluator help the Court to make a decision that is in the best interest of the child.
This opinion is not legal advice and may not apply to your specific situation. Please do not attempt to represent yourself based on this opinion. If you would like to discuss your matter, please reach out to us at [email protected] and [email protected].