What is a child custody evaluation and how long does it take?

In high conflict custody cases, the Court may appoint a child custody evaluator to assess the family and make recommendations to the Court regarding whether one parent should have sole legal and/or sole physical custody, subject to the other parent’s visitation, or whether the parents should share custody, among other custody-related recommendations.  

Child custody evaluators are mental health professionals who have completed specific education and training to become certified as experts.  In California, the appointment of child custody evaluators is governed by Evidence Code §730 and Family Code §3111.  

The Child Custody Evaluation Process

Once appointed, the custody evaluator will interview both parents and child(ren), as well as “collateral” witnesses designated by each party, which may include teachers, pediatricians, extended family members, significant others, friends, and anyone else who may have useful information to share.  In addition, over the course of the evaluation, each side will have the opportunity to submit relevant Court pleadings and other documents to the evaluator for review, which can be laborious.  

At the conclusion of the evaluation, the evaluator will submit a confidential report to the parents and the Court which includes a summary of interviews and documents the evaluator has reviewed, background information about both parents and the family, the results of any psychological testing that may have been performed at the evaluator’s request, the evaluator’s opinions, and custody recommendations, which are non-binding.  

If the parties do not stipulate to accept the evaluator’s recommendations, or otherwise resolve their custody dispute, then there will be a custody review hearing on the evaluator’s recommendations, and the Court will make orders.  

How long does a child custody evaluation take?

Most evaluations take anywhere from 3-12 months to complete and range in cost from $25,000-$50,000.  However, both the duration and cost of the evaluation from start to finish varies on a case-to-case basis, determined in large part by the nature of each parent’s requests, the complexity of issues to be resolved, the evaluator’s availability, and the cooperation of the parties.  

For example, cases involving domestic violence and/or substance abuse, whether documented or alleged, or a request by one parent to relocate with the minor child(ren), can prolong the process.  

Are you looking for legal help concerning child custody? Valencia-Taghavi offers premium Family Law services for the Los Angeles Area. Request a call back from our expert lawyers.