Court-Connected Child Custody Evaluation Information Sheet
In Family Court, when parents can’t agree about how their child will be cared for when the parents live apart from each other (child custody and parenting plan), court provides mediation or child custody recommending counseling to help parents negotiate an agreement. When parents still can’t agree, the judicial officer (judge or commissioner) will make a decision at a hearing. The judicial officer may order a child custody evaluation to assist in this process (a parent can also ask to have an evaluation ordered).
In Superior Court for Placer County, Family Court Services will assign a qualified professional under contract with the court to conduct court-connected child custody evaluation when fees are paid to the court.
Professionals under contract with Placer Superior Court as child custody evaluators are licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists (MFT), and clinical social workers (LCSW) who have received specialized training and experience in child custody evaluations
Court may also appoint a qualified private evaluator who is not connected to Family Court Services to conduct the evaluation.
Purpose of the Evaluation
Purpose of the child custody evaluation is to investigate and provide an analysis of the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of the child, and to provide the court recommendations regarding the issues specified in the order. In cases where the court has determined that there is a serious allegation of child sexual abuse, state law requires that the evaluator conduct a detailed investigation if the court is considering permanent child custody or visitation orders.
Evaluator may do all or any of the following to gather and assess information:
- Review court documents in the family law custody case file;
- Obtain and review documents related to custody, which may include any available police reports, law enforcement records, juvenile records, child’s medical, dental, mental health, and other health-care records and school and educational records;
- Interview parents individually and/or jointly;
- Observe parent-child interaction;
- Interview the child’s family members and/or others who have had contacts with the child;
- Interview professionals who have provided care for the child;
- Make a home visit to each parent’s home;
- Consult with other experts; and/or
- Interview the child (depending on the child’s age and maturity) individually, or with a parent or other person(s).
Any additional documents submitted by a party to the evaluator must be served on the other party at least 3 days before the initial appointment and provided with a Proof of Service. Evaluators are not required to read more than 30 pages of additional documents.
If psychological test reports are available, evaluator may review and consider them. However, psychological tests will not be administered by the evaluator assigned by Family Court Services.
Time required to gather and assess the information will vary depending on the issues evaluator will investigate, amount of documents to review, number of persons to interview, travel time to and from each parent’s home, etc. Many evaluations require 12 to 20 hours of the evaluator’s time.
Scope and Distribution of the Evaluation Report
The Evaluation report will include the evaluator’s recommendation and describe what procedures and sources of information that were used in making the recommendation. The report contains a summary of the information collected, the evaluator's assessment of the family dynamics and the needs of the children, and responds to the orders concerning the focus of the Evaluation, such as parenting plan or sharing of time.
The original report is sent to the court ten (10) days prior to the hearing. The report will be placed in a confidential sealed portion of the court’s file. Evaluator will also send copies of the report to each party and/or the attorneys. If this is not possible, evaluator will give notice.
Confidentiality and Limitations of the Process
The information in the Evaluation report is confidential and will not be shared with anyone other than the judicial officer and the other party in your case.
Under no circumstances should the report be shared with, read to, or discussed with, the children.
However, if the evaluator suspects child abuse or neglect, the evaluator will report it to Child Protective Services (CPS) or a law enforcement agency.
If during the evaluation process, a serious threat of physical violence against someone is made, the evaluator will contact and warn the person who is the target of the threat and report the threat to a law enforcement agency.
Cost and Payment Responsibility
The cost of court-connected child custody evaluation for Placer Superior Court is $1,500. The fees are due at the time the Evaluation is ordered. The petitioner and/or the respondent must each pay the fee that the judicial officer has ordered for their share of the evaluation (please see the second page of the Order Appointing Court Evaluator for your case for the amount each party is to pay). The court reserves jurisdiction to reapportion the responsibility for the fees between the parties.
Unless court orders otherwise, Family Court Services will not assign an evaluator until the payments have been received and proof of payment is made available to Family Court Services.
Payment should be made to:
Placer County Superior Court
PO Box 619072
Roseville, Ca. 95661-9072
Communications with Parties & Attorneys
Parties and attorneys in the case cannot talk or write or otherwise communicate directly with the evaluator about the issues in the case without the other parties' knowledge or a court order. Evaluator also cannot communicate with the judicial officer about the case without the parties’ knowledge.
Court Testimony by an Evaluator
To have the court-connected evaluator appear as a witness to testify at a deposition or a hearing, a subpoena should be served on the court-connected contract evaluator at the evaluator’s private office. The evaluator may require a deposit at the time of service of the subpoena for time spent to prepare and deliver testimony and for travel time. The contracted evaluators set and charge a separate hourly rate for their testimony time.
Questions and complaints
Feedback from the users of the child custody evaluation process is very important and serves to improve the service. Complaints about services provided by evaluators may be addressed in writing to:
Placer County Superior Court
Director: Family Court Services
Bill Santucci Justice Center
PO Box 619072
Roseville, CA 95661-9072
The Director or the Court Assistant Executive Officer will review the complaint, the case file, and discuss the matter with the evaluator. A written response will be sent to the person filing a complaint. If the complaint is not satisfactorily resolved, it may be brought to the attention of the Supervising Family Law Judge at the same address.
A Brief Outline of the Evaluation Process