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Understanding California Custody Evaluations

Child custody evaluations play a vital role in determining the best interests of children in California. These evaluations, also known as 730 or 3111 evaluations, are conducted by mental health professionals in accordance with the relevant sections of the state code.

The need for custody evaluations may arise when a parent requests it, a court mediator recommends it, or a judge deems it necessary. While the length and focus of these evaluations may vary, their ultimate outcome is the creation of a confidential report containing an official recommendation for the court.

Common Reasons For Custody Evaluations

Custody evaluations are often ordered by the court to assist in deciding the most suitable parenting arrangement for a child. Some common reasons that prompt such evaluations include concerns related to domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, special needs children, a parent’s intention to relocate a child out of state, and instances of questionable parenting.

The purpose of California custody evaluations

Selecting An Evaluator

Superior courts either have their own evaluators or maintain a list of registered local evaluators. Evaluators can be psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or licensed clinical social workers.

Typically, the judge invites input from both parents when selecting an evaluator. One parent may propose three options, from which the other parent makes the final choice. In some cases, opposing lawyers may confer with evaluators to discuss their areas of expertise, methods, and approaches.

Full Evaluations

A comprehensive custody evaluation encompasses various components such as interviews with parents and children, psychological assessments, home visits, interviews with individuals familiar with the family, and a review of relevant documents ranging from school records to medical files. Evaluators are expected to utilize all necessary sources to assess each custody issue in the case thoroughly.

Full evaluations require several weeks to months to complete. Evaluators charge hourly fees ranging from $100 to $400, which can accumulate to a total cost of $1,000 to $50,000. The court determines the responsibility for payment, whether one or both parents should split the costs, or if neither party can afford it.

Brief Assessments & Focused-Issue Evaluations

To expedite the evaluation process and reduce costs, some counties opt for abbreviated versions of evaluations. The details of these assessments are determined by the judge, lawyers, parents, and evaluator.

Brief assessments, also known as mini-evaluations, involve shortened home visits, brief interviews with parents and children, and possibly simplified psychological tests. There is no comprehensive review of files and documents in these assessments.

Focused-issue evaluations concentrate on examining a specific issue in a child custody case, such as assessing how a parent’s relocation might impact the child.

Both brief assessments and focused-issue evaluations can range from a few hours to a month in duration. Evaluators often charge flat fees for these options, typically ranging from $500 to $5,000. In some cases, evaluators seeking experience may offer their services for free.

Special Circumstances

Certain custody cases may necessitate the involvement of multiple evaluators or subject experts. For example, one evaluator might focus on a specific issue like substance abuse, while another provides an overall custody recommendation. Psychological testing must be conducted by a trained psychologist, which might require the engagement of a second expert if the primary evaluator lacks the necessary qualifications. Evaluators may also consult with professionals who have worked with the family in the past, such as social workers, therapists, or doctors (with the parent’s consent).

In contemporary evaluations, evaluators remain vigilant for a phenomenon known as parental alienation, and some specialists focus exclusively on this issue. Parental alienation occurs when one parent manipulates their child’s relationship with the other parent through false claims and manipulation. If an evaluator identifies parental alienation, they will typically recommend therapy for the family members involved and may suggest gradually increasing parenting time for the alienated parent, or in some cases, sole custody.

In certain situations, evaluators may recommend that a child be represented by their own lawyer, known as a child counsel. This recommendation is commonly made in cases involving child abuse, child neglect, substance abuse, or severe conflict. The child’s counsel thoroughly investigates and advocates for what would be in the child’s best interest.

California custody evaluation process

Addressing Complaints

If a parent wishes to file a complaint against their evaluator, they should contact their county’s Family Court Services Department and raise the issue during a court hearing. In cases involving ethics or licensing concerns, it is advisable to contact the relevant state board, such as the Board of Behavioral Sciences or the California Board of Psychology.

Tips For Parents Going Through An Evaluation

Parents involved in a custody evaluation can benefit from the following tips:

1. Seek assistance from an attorney or legal professional to prepare for the evaluation process.

2. Take all interactions with the evaluator seriously, ensuring punctuality, dressing appropriately, and being prepared with relevant documents.

3. Demonstrate that the well-being of your children is a top priority in your life, placing their interests and needs above your own.

4. Treat the evaluator with respect and avoid engaging in arguments. Remember that your words and actions will be reflected in the evaluator’s report.

5. Be honest and forthcoming throughout the evaluation process.

6. Acknowledge both your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.

7. Refrain from speaking negatively about the other parent.

8. Avoid coaching your children but encourage them to express their thoughts honestly.

9. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have during the evaluation.

10. Consider providing letters of support from individuals in your network, as they can demonstrate your commitment to the process, although evaluators typically do not give them significant weight.

The Evaluator’s Report

Once the evaluation is complete, the evaluator compiles their findings into a confidential report, including an official custody recommendation. This report remains accessible only to individuals involved in the case.

The report is shared with the court and both parents’ lawyers, or directly with the parents if they are representing themselves, at least 10 days before the next hearing. The report serves as one of the factors considered by the judge when making a decision in the case.

During a trial, parents have the opportunity to question the evaluator about the report. They may also invite other mental health professionals to examine and testify about the contents of the report.


Child custody evaluations in California play a crucial role in determining the best interests of children involved in custody disputes. These evaluations, conducted by mental health professionals, provide valuable insights into various factors affecting the child’s well-being, including issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, and special needs. Whether it’s a full evaluation involving extensive interviews, assessments, and document reviews, or a more focused assessment on specific issues, these evaluations provide valuable information to the court.

It is essential for parents to approach the evaluation process with sincerity, honesty, and respect. By prioritizing their children’s needs and demonstrating their commitment to the evaluation, parents can positively impact the outcome of the process. Seeking legal guidance, adhering to the evaluator’s requests, and maintaining a cooperative attitude can contribute to a fair and comprehensive evaluation.

While custody evaluations may involve costs and potential challenges, they serve as a valuable tool for the court in making informed decisions about parenting arrangements. The confidential report provided by the evaluator, along with other evidence presented during the trial, helps the judge determine the most suitable custody arrangement that serves the child’s best interests.

By understanding the evaluation process, adhering to ethical conduct, and actively participating in the proceedings, parents can contribute to a thorough and unbiased evaluation. Ultimately, the goal of child custody evaluations in California is to ensure that the decisions made regarding child custody prioritize the child’s well-being, safety, and long-term development.

Modern Family Law

Modern Family Law’s team of experienced family lawyers takes a compassionate approach to the practice of family law. Using innovative technology to create an effective and efficient process for our clientele, our attorneys approach each case as a collective effort to find the best long-term solutions for each family. We understand the financial burden a divorce can have on an individual. As such we have created our industry-first SimpleStart™ program, providing people a chance to reduce the amount of money needed upfront to start their case. For more information please give us a call or fill out a short form online to sign up for a free consultation today! Let us make a positive difference in your life.



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By: MFL Team

Posted May 15, 2023

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