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Child Custody Evaluations
What Is A Child Custody Evaluation?

A child custody evaluation is a prepared by a neutral mental health professional about you, the other parent and your children. The report summarizes each parent's ideas about what would be best for the children and includes information from teachers, doctors and other people who have had contact with your children. A recommendation is made in the report as to what custody and visitation plan would be best for your children.
The goal of a child custody evaluation is to provide the Court and the parties with objective information and recommendations about a family to assist the Court in issuing orders in highly contested custody disputes. In formulating a recommendation, the evaluator analyzes the family dynamics as they affect the children, and searches for a solution that serves the best interests of the children.
The information contained in an evaluation may be used by the Court to issue custody orders or by the parties to reach an agreement. Since the evaluation is written by someone who is neutral and is knowledgeable about how divorce affects children, a custody evaluation is a very important alternative dispute resolution tool.
Two types of evaluations are available:
  1. 1. Full Child Custody Evaluations. A full evaluation generally involves multiple interviews with your family, extensive examination of collateral information and results in a written report.

    1. Currently, Family Court Services will only conduct full Child Custody Evaluations ordered per Family Code Section 3118, when the Court determines that there is a serious allegation of child sexual abuse.

    2. Cost: Unless the Court orders the cost of the evaluation waived or deferred, a deposit of approximately $1200 is required before the evaluation begins. The actual cost of the evaluation is computed based on an hourly charge for services and is detailed in the invoice that accompanies the written report when the evaluation is completed.

  2. Parenting Plan Assessments (formerly known as Solution Focused Evaluations).

    1. One-Day, Parenting Plan Assessments (PPA). Ordered when the Court determines that there are one or two narrowly defined issues about which the Court requires additional information and clinical judgment. Interviews and testimony are conducted on the same day.

    2. Two-Day, Parenting Plan Assessments (PPA). Ordered when the Court determines that there are more than two narrowly defined issues about which the Court requires additional information and clinical judgment. Occurs on two consecutive days, with interviews of the family on the first day and testimony on the following day.

    3. Cost: Unless the Court orders of the cost of the Parenting Plan Assessment waived or deferred, the fee for the One-Day PPA is $975.00 and the cost for the Two-Day PPA is $1950.00. The fee must be paid to the Family Court Services Office, 111 N. Hill St., Room 241, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Payment must be made within 21 calendar days after the order is entered or by the date of the assessment, whichever is first. Failure to do so will result in the cancellation of the assessment. If your case settles after payment is made, you must notify the Family Court Services Office prior to the date of the assessment in order to receive a full refund. Otherwise, a $50 administrative fee will be assessed.

Who Does The Evaluation?

Every evaluator appointed through the Child Custody Evaluations Office is an employee of the Superior Court. Evaluators hired by the Court have a minimum of a Master's Degree in Behavioral Science and five years of post-masters experience working with families and children. In reality, most of the evaluators exceed the minimum requirements and most hold clinical licenses. All employees receive ongoing professional training and participate in various local, state and national committees and organizations relevant to the field of child custody evaluations. The office employs both full and part time evaluators.
What Happens During A Full Evaluation?

Although sometimes altered to fit the needs of a particular situation, evaluations generally follow a definite pattern in terms of the steps taken to obtain information:
  • Interviews with the parents may be held jointly except in domestic violence cases or where it is otherwise inappropriate
  • Observation of the children with each of the parents in each parent's home and interviews with all other members of the household
  • Individual age-appropriate interviews with each child at issue, usually take place in the home of each parent.
  • All pertinent collateral information
  • Interviews are done with other significant people usually by telephone. Evaluators exercise discretion in selecting those persons most likely to contribute information central to determining the best interests of each child.
Every effort is made to apply comparable procedures with both parties. If a parent resides in a neighboring county, the evaluator may ask that parent to come to Los Angeles County for the office interview and may either make the home call or ask an appropriate agency in the other county to go to the home. If the party resides at a greater distance and is unable to be interviewed in Los Angeles, the evaluator will rely on a local agency where available. In those rare cases in which the evaluator is ordered to go to another jurisdiction for purposes of evaluating a parent in his/her own environment, orders must include an order for prepayment of travel expenses.
What is in a Full Child Custody Evaluation Report?

The report describes the procedures used and all sources of information central to reaching the decision. The report contains a summary of the information collected, the evaluator's assessment of the family dynamics and the needs of the children, and a recommended custody and visitation plan.
The original report is sent to the Court and each attorney or pro per[G] receives a copy. The reports are identical in all respects except where criminal records have been obtained on the persons related to the case. Criminal reports are attached to the Court's copy only. The attorneys' copies are marked with a request not to generate further copies. We ask that information contained in the report be discussed with the client in a way that the children's well-being is protected at all times, and the children do not suffer any repercussions because of their statements.
Can The Evaluator Be Subpoenaed?

Any subpoena requiring the appearance of an evaluator at a hearing or deposition must be hand delivered to the central Child Custody Evaluations Office at least 10 days prior to the appearance date. A $951 deposit is required per subpoena to cover one day of expert witness fees. Depositions require a deposit of $1268 to cover 4 hours of expert witness fees. Deposits must be received 10 days in advance of the appearance date. Additional time will be billed or refunds issued, as appropriate.
Can We Write Our Own Agreement After The Full Evaluation Is Done?

Yes, you are always encouraged to write your own agreement. After the evaluation is completed, you can make another appointment with the Conciliation Court or with your attorneys. Additionally, if, at the end of the evaluation process, the evaluator feels the family could benefit from another opportunity to settle the dispute, the evaluator invites the parents to a Post Evaluation Settlement Conference and their attorneys are notified of the scheduled meeting. During this meeting, the evaluator shares with the parents the recommendations that would be made to the Court, if a report was written, and which areas in the recommendation are subject to negotiation. If the parents reach an agreement and after 10 days neither party objects to the agreement, the agreement is forwarded to the Court for judicial signature and filing with the Court. In these cases, a detailed evaluation report is not filed with the Court.
How Can Attorneys Assist In The Process?
Important
Please read this section if you are representing yourself
An Attorney can assist in the process by:

  • Providing information to the evaluator
    The evaluator must have accurate and complete information in order to contact your client and any other person from whom the parent wants the evaluator to receive information. Make sure your client fills out all necessary paperwork promptly and thoroughly and provides releases to obtain requested information. Any direct communication from either attorney with the assigned evaluator about the specifics of the case should be done in writing with a copy to opposing counsel.

  • Keeping appointments
    Make sure your client knows when appointments are scheduled and that they make every effort to keep those appointments. If there is an emergency that make rescheduling an appointment necessary, be sure the evaluator is notified as soon as possible. Efforts are made to set the evaluator's home visit within the existing court ordered visitation schedule. However, in many situations, the home call appointment will differ from visitation times set out by the Court and the attorneys' cooperation may be needed to ensure the child(ren) are present in each parent's home for the evaluator's visit.

  • Explaining the cost
    Be sure your client understands the payment obligation set forth in the Stipulation and Order for Appointment and Payment of Court Evaluator (FAM FCS 006) or the Order for Appointment and Payment of FCS Specialists- Parenting Plan Assessment (FAM FCS 007) and that this obligation paid promptly. Any factors regarding inability to pay should be raised at the time the evaluation is ordered, so orders accommodating your client's financial situation can be issued.

  • Clarifying allegations
    Encourage your client to provide the evaluator with his/her concerns regarding the parenting of the children, and sources of collateral information, as early in the process as possible (desirably on the Parent Questionnaire). The evaluator will investigate the allegations raised by both parents, including fulfilling legal mandates regarding reporting child abuse. However, the investigation of a specific allegation does not necessarily mean the evaluator is convinced of the truth or merit of the allegation.

  • Notifying the evaluator of any change
    The evaluator must be informed at the earliest possible date of all changes relating to the case including: substitution of attorney, change in Court date, settlement of the dispute, and address changes.

  • Encouraging full participation in evaluator's home visits
    Encourage your client to have all members of his/her household present for the home visit, including stepchildren and other children not at issue. The purpose of the home visit is to observe the children with the people that live in that home and to interview the significant people in the child's life. Absent parties can lead to a less comprehensive picture of the family.
You can find the form listed above and a complete list of Los Angeles Superior Court Family Law forms, go to Family Law Forms.
Are There Professional Standards Evaluators Must Follow?

Yes, the state has standards that evaluators must follow. The standards are contained in the California Rules of Court regarding Court-ordered child custody evaluations. See also, Los Angeles County local rules of court regarding Adherence to Standards and Requests for Change of Family Court Services Mediator/Evaluator.
For more information on California Judicial Branch standards for Evaluators, go the California Court Rules for Family Law.

For more information on Los Angeles Superior Court standards for Evaluators, go the Los Angeles County Court Rules for Family Law.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT ON A ONE-DAY PARENTING PLAN ASSESSMENT?

Both parents and the minor children will arrive at 8:00 AM Interviews will be conducted throughout the morning. The children are not required to be present in the afternoon. However, both parents must appear at 1:30 PM for the Court hearing.

Parents may be interviewed individually and/or together. If there has been any violence between the parents, please inform us when you check-in so that you can be interviewed separately.

The children will be interviewed individually and together with each parent. Other relatives or friends may be interviewed, time permitting.

The FCS Specialist will need some time to talk with you without the children present. If you have young children, you will need to bring someone who can care for them while you are speaking with the FCS Specialist.
FEES
Unless specifically waived by the court, the fee for this service must be paid to the Family Court Services Office, 111 N. Hill Street, Room 241, Los Angeles, California, 90012 no later than twenty-one (21) calendar days from the date that the order for the Parenting Plan Assessment is made.

If the fee is not received by 21 calendar days from the date the order for the assessment is made, the Parenting Plan Assessment will be canceled. If canceled, you will need to seek reinstatement directly from the court.

If your case settles after payment is made, you must notify the Family Court Services Office prior to the date of the Parenting Plan Assessment in order to receive a full refund. Otherwise, a $50 administrative fee will be assessed.

PLEASE BRING WITH YOU:
Written Materials Please provide the other parent or his/her lawyer with a copy of any written materials you provide to the FCS Specialist for review. These records may include: letters/ reports from a therapist, physician, law enforcement or school (attendance records or report cards).

Collateral Contacts Please provide the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any persons who have relevant information about the custody issue and who you would like the FCS Specialist to contact. Please keep in mind that time is limited, so the FCS Specialist may not have time to interview or contact everyone you suggest.
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
Be honest and clear. Do not assume the FCS Specialist already knows something because you told someone else in the Court.

If you have any trouble understanding the questions or feel you are not being understood, please share your concerns. The FCS Specialist is considering a parenting plan that will be in your children’s best interest.

The FCS Specialist will likely ask you many questions. Do not assume the FCS Specialist does or does not believe what you are saying simply because more questions are asked.

The FCS Specialist understands this process may cause anxiety for you and your children and will encourage everyone to remain calm and focused on the best interests of the minor children.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT ON A TWO-DAY PARENTING PLAN ASSESSMENT?

Both parents and the minor children will arrive on Day 1 at 8:00 AM. Please plan to be available the entire day, but know that you will have a lunch break.

Parents may be interviewed individually and/or together. If there has been any violence between the parents, please inform us when you check-in so that you can be interviewed separately.

The children will be interviewed individually and together with each parent. Other relatives or friends may be interviewed, time permitting.

The FCS Specialist will need some time to speak with you without the children present. If you have young children you will need to bring someone who can care for them while you are speaking with the FCS Specialist.

DAY TWO
CHECK-IN TIME: 11:00 AM Post Parenting Plan Assessment Conference
1:30 PM Court Hearing
The FCS Specialist will meet with the parents and their counsel, if represented, on Day 2 at 11:00 AM. This conference provides an opportunity for settlement should the parties wish to stipulate to the FCS Specialist’s recommendations for custody and visitation. If there is no agreement, the FCS Specialist will testify as to their findings and recommendations at the court hearing at 1:30 PM.

Should the FCS Specialist wish to meet briefly with the parents, or other adult(s), prior to 11:00 AM on Day 2, they will notify you during the interviews on Day 1.
FEES
Unless specifically waived by the court, the fee for this service must be paid to the Family Court Services Office, 111 N. Hill Street, Room 241, Los Angeles, California, 90012 no later than twenty-one (21) calendar days from the date that the order for the Parenting Plan Assessment is made.

If the fee is not received by 21 calendar days from the date the order for the Parenting Plan Assessment is made, the will be canceled. If canceled, you will need to seek reinstatement directly from the court.

If your case settles after payment is made, you must notify the Family Court Services prior to the date of the Parenting Plan Assessment in order to receive a full refund. Otherwise, a $50 administrative fee will be assessed.
PLEASE BRING WITH YOU:
Written Materials Please provide the other parent or his/her lawyer with a copy of any written materials you provide to the FCS Specialist for review. These records may include: letters/reports from a therapist, physician, law enforcement or school (attendance records or report cards).

Collateral Contacts Please provide the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any persons who have relevant information about the custody issue and who you would like the FCS Specialist to contact. Please keep in mind that time is limited, so the FCS Specialist may not have time to interview or contact everyone you suggest.
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
Be honest and clear. Do not assume the FCS Specialist already knows something because you told someone else in the Court.

If you have any trouble understanding the questions or feel you are not being understood, please share your concerns. The FCS Specialist is considering a parenting plan that will be in your children’s best interest.

The FCS Specialist will likely ask you many questions. Do not assume the FCS Specialist does or does not believe what you are saying simply because more questions are asked.

The FCS Specialist understands this process may cause anxiety for you and your children and will encourage everyone to remain calm and focused on the best interests of the minor children.
Can Evaluations be done by Private Evaluators?

The court is empowered to appoint an independent mental health professional not associated with the court to perform evaluations. In most instances, this is a clinical psychologist in private practice. This individual becomes the expert witness under Evidence Code § 730 to conduct an evaluation of the parties and children and to make recommendations for an appropriate parenting plan. A description of such an evaluation is not included. An expert appointed under Evidence Code § 730 is also subject to the uniform standards of practice for court-ordered child custody evaluations including the requirement that s/he receive and maintain updated training pursuant to the statewide domestic violence training standards for court-appointed child custody investigators and evaluators (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 1257.7).
For more information on Los Angeles Superior Court standards for Independent Evaluators, go to the Los Angeles County Court Rules for Family Law.
For a list of Private Child Custody Evaluators, go to the Evaluator List.
 
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