Both court-connected and private child custody evaluators are governed by similar requirements under the law. All evaluators must have completed the domestic violence and child abuse training as outlined in Fam Code §1816. The training they have to undergo includes, but is not limited to:
- The effects of domestic violence on children.
- The nature and extent of domestic violence.
- The social and family dynamics of domestic violence.
- Techniques for identifying and assisting families affected by domestic violence.
- Interviewing, documentation of, and appropriate recommendations for families affected by domestic violence.
- The legal rights of, and remedies available to, victims.
- Availability of community and legal domestic violence resources.
Aside from the training outlined in Fam Code §1816, the evaluators are also required to comply with other training, experience, and continuing requirement as outlined in law.
Duties of The Evaluator
The evaluator is required to conduct a “child custody evaluation.” It is an expert investigation and analysis of the child’s health, safety, welfare, and best interest, concerning disputed custody and visitation issues. The evaluator must also prepare and file a report with the court clerk and serve the report on the parties or their divorce attorneys and any counsel appointed for the child at least 10 days before custody hearing.
An evaluation report that is not conducted in accordance with the standards identified by the judicial council cannot be considered by the court.
The court may not act on the evaluation report and recommendations unless the parties are given the opportunity to cross-examine the evaluator. The right to cross-examine can be waived by the parties, provided that the party or their attorney has already received the report.
The custody evaluator may also recommend the appointment of an independent counsel for the child as an incident to the investigation and report. In making the recommendation, the evaluator must inform the court of the reasons why it would be in the best interest of the child to have counsel appointed.
The report may be received in evidence on the stipulation of all interested parties and is competent evidence as to all matters contained in the report.
When there is a showing of bias in the totality of the circumstances, the evaluator should be removed, under Leslie O. v. Superior Court (2014).