Rule 5.220. Court-ordered child custody evaluations

2010 California Rules of Court

Rule 5.220. Court-ordered child custody evaluations

(a) Authority

This rule of court is adopted under Family Code sections 211 and 3117.

(Subd (a) amended effective January 1, 2007.)

(b) Purpose

Courts order child custody evaluations, investigations, and assessments to assist them in determining the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of children with regard to disputed custody and visitation issues. This rule governs both court-connected and private child custody evaluators appointed under Family Code section 3111, Evidence Code section 730, or Code of Civil Procedure section 2032.

(Subd (b) amended effective January 1, 2003.)

(c) Definitions

For purposes of this rule:

(1)A “child custody evaluator” is a court-appointed investigator as defined in Family Code section 3110.

(2)The “best interest of the child” is as defined in Family Code section 3011.

(3)A “child custody evaluation” is an expert investigation and analysis of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of children with regard to disputed custody and visitation issues.

(4)A “full evaluation, investigation, or assessment” is a comprehensive examination of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child.

(5)A “partial evaluation, investigation, or assessment” is an examination of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child that is limited by court order in either time or scope.

(6)“Evaluation,” “investigation,” and “assessment” are synonymous.

(Subd (c) amended effective January 1, 2003.)

(d) Responsibility for evaluation services

(1)Each court must:

(A)Adopt a local rule by January 1, 2000, to:

(i)Implement this rule of court;

(ii)Determine whether a peremptory challenge to a court-appointed evaluator is allowed and when the challenge must be exercised. The rules must specify whether a family court services staff member, other county employee, a mental health professional, or all of them may be challenged;

(iii)Allow evaluators to petition the court to withdraw from a case;

(iv)Provide for acceptance of and response to complaints about an evaluator’s performance; and

(v)Address ex parte communications.

(B)Give the evaluator, before the evaluation begins, a copy of the court order that specifies:

(i)The appointment of the evaluator under Evidence Code section 730, Family Code section 3110, or Code of Civil Procedure 2032; and

(ii)The purpose and scope of the evaluation.

(C)Require child custody evaluators to adhere to the requirements of this rule.

(D)Determine and allocate between the parties any fees or costs of the evaluation.

(2)The child custody evaluator must:

(A)Consider the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child within the scope and purpose of the evaluation as defined by the court order;

(B)Strive to minimize the potential for psychological trauma to children during the evaluation process; and

(C)Include in the initial meeting with each child an age-appropriate explanation of the evaluation process, including limitations on the confidentiality of the process.

(Subd (d) amended effective January 1, 2007; previously amended effective January 1, 2003.)

(e) Scope of evaluations

All evaluations must include:

(1)A written explanation of the process that clearly describes the:

(A)Purpose of the evaluation;

(B)Procedures used and the time required to gather and assess information and, if psychological tests will be used, the role of the results in confirming or questioning other information or previous conclusions;

(C)Scope and distribution of the evaluation report;

(D)Limitations on the confidentiality of the process; and

(E)Cost and payment responsibility for the evaluation.

(2)Data collection and analysis that are consistent with the requirements of Family Code section 3118; that allow the evaluator to observe and consider each party in comparable ways and to substantiate (from multiple sources when possible) interpretations and conclusions regarding each child’s developmental needs; the quality of attachment to each parent and that parent’s social environment; and reactions to the separation, divorce, or parental conflict. This process may include:

(A)Reviewing pertinent documents related to custody, including local police records;

(B)Observing parent-child interaction (unless contraindicated to protect the best interest of the child);

(C)Interviewing parents conjointly, individually, or both conjointly and individually (unless contraindicated in cases involving domestic violence), to assess:

(i)Capacity for setting age-appropriate limits and for understanding and responding to the child’s needs;

(ii)History of involvement in caring for the child;

(iii)Methods for working toward resolution of the child custody conflict;

(iv)History of child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and psychiatric illness; and

(v)Psychological and social functioning;

(D)Conducting age-appropriate interviews and observation with the children, both parents, stepparents, step- and half-siblings conjointly, separately, or both conjointly and separately, unless contraindicated to protect the best interest of the child;

(E)Collecting relevant corroborating information or documents as permitted by law; and

(F)Consulting with other experts to develop information that is beyond the evaluator’s scope of practice or area of expertise.

(3)A written or oral presentation of findings that is consistent with Family Code section 3111, Family Code section 3118, or Evidence Code section 730. In any presentation of findings, the evaluator must:

(A)Summarize the data-gathering procedures, information sources, and time spent, and present all relevant information, including information that does not support the conclusions reached;

(B)Describe any limitations in the evaluation that result from unobtainable information, failure of a party to cooperate, or the circumstances of particular interviews;

(C)Only make a custody or visitation recommendation for a party who has been evaluated. This requirement does not preclude the evaluator from making an interim recommendation that is in the best interest of the child; and

(D)Provide clear, detailed recommendations that are consistent with the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child if making any recommendations to the court regarding a parenting plan.

(Subd (e) amended effective January 1, 2007; previously amended effective January 1, 2003, and July 1, 2003.)

(f) Cooperation with professionals in another jurisdiction

When one party resides in another jurisdiction, the custody evaluator may rely on another qualified neutral professional for assistance in gathering information. In order to ensure a thorough and comparably reliable out-of-jurisdiction evaluation, the evaluator must:

(1)Make a written request that includes, as appropriate:

(A)A copy of all relevant court orders;

(B)An outline of issues to be explored;

(C)A list of the individuals who must or may be contacted;

(D)A description of the necessary structure and setting for interviews;

(E)A statement as to whether a home visit is required;

(F)A request for relevant documents such as police records, school reports, or other document review; and

(G)A request that a written report be returned only to the evaluator and that no copies of the report be distributed to parties or attorneys;

(2)Provide instructions that limit the out-of-jurisdiction report to factual matters and behavioral observations rather than recommendations regarding the overall custody plan; and

(3)Attach and discuss the report provided by the professional in another jurisdiction in the evaluator’s final report.

(Subd (f) amended effective January 1, 2003.)

(g) Requirements for evaluator qualifications, training, continuing education, and experience

All child custody evaluators must meet the qualifications, training, and continuing education requirements specified in Family Code sections 1815, 1816, and 3111, and rules 5.225 and 5.230.

(Subd (g) amended effective January 1, 2004; previously amended effective July 1, 1999, and January 1, 2003.)

(h) Ethics

In performing an evaluation, the child custody evaluator must:

(1)Maintain objectivity, provide and gather balanced information for both parties, and control for bias;

(2)Protect the confidentiality of the parties and children in collateral contacts and not release information about the case to any individual except as authorized by the court or statute;

(3)Not offer any recommendations about a party unless that party has been evaluated directly or in consultation with another qualified neutral professional;

(4)Consider the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child in all phases of the process, including interviews with parents, extended family members, counsel for the child, and other interested parties or collateral contacts;

(5)Strive to maintain the confidential relationship between the child who is the subject of an evaluation and his or her treating psychotherapist;

(6)Operate within the limits of the evaluator’s training and experience and disclose any limitations or bias that would affect the evaluator’s ability to conduct the evaluation;

(7)Not pressure children to state a custodial preference;

(8)Inform the parties of the evaluator’s reporting requirements, including, but not limited to, suspected child abuse and neglect and threats to harm one’s self or another person;

(9)Not disclose any recommendations to the parties, their attorneys, or the attorney for the child before having gathered the information necessary to support the conclusion;

(10)Disclose to the court, parties, attorney for a party, and attorney for the child conflicts of interest or dual relationships; and not accept any appointment except by court order or the parties’ stipulation; and

(11)Be sensitive to the socioeconomic status, gender, race, ethnicity, cultural values, religion, family structures, and developmental characteristics of the parties.

(Subd (h) amended effective January 1, 2007; previously amended effective January 1, 2003.)

(i) Service of the evaluation report

A Notice Regarding Confidentiality of Child Custody Evaluation Report (form FL-328) must be attached as the first page of the child custody evaluation report when a court-ordered child custody evaluation report is filed with the clerk of the court and served on the parties or their attorneys, and any counsel appointed for the child, to inform them of the confidential nature of the report and the potential consequences for the unwarranted disclosure of the report.

(Subd (i) adopted effective January 1, 2010.)

(j) Cost-effective procedures for cross-examination of evaluators

Each local court must develop procedures for expeditious and cost-effective cross-examination of evaluators, including, but not limited to, consideration of the following:

(1)Videoconferences;

(2)Telephone conferences;

(3)Audio or video examination; and

(4)Scheduling of appearances.

(Subd (j) relettered effective January 1, 2010; adopted as subd (i); previously amended effective January 1, 2003.)

Rule 5.220 amended effective January 1, 2010; adopted as rule 1257.3 effective January 1, 1999; previously amended and renumbered effective January 1, 2003; previously amended effective July 1, 1999, July 1, 2003, January 1, 2004, and January 1, 2007.

2 thoughts on “Rule 5.220. Court-ordered child custody evaluations

  1. I raised a “well rounded, happy child” who believed good things happened to good people. OH my mistake! My crystal ball did not know a prisoner would be filing for all rights due to DNA to this child and essentially blow up her life at the age of 10.
    At the age of 11 she was forced into a reunification process with nobody asking the primary parent who this child was, what might work best for her, how to help her with her fears, what she knew about the other parent. She was treated like an incourrigible child (which she now is acting accordingly at the age of 12). She was a non-person to the “therapeutic interventionist”. The abuse she suffered in that office weekly for over a year has profoundly affected her and changed her life.
    I remember watching her innocence ripped away. She started carrying stuffed animals in for security with these strangers who were implementing a court order with not a shred of compassion for a child’s feelings. I am disgusted with these so called psychological professionals. They are pathetic and a disgrace to their profession for a fee!
    If there are good ones in this system, they should help to weed out the abusers within. I would have charged anyone who did to my daughter what was done to her with child abuse. I would sue them for damages as she will forever be affected by the recklessness and punitive actions used. The other parent didn’t know the innocence of this child as they were strangers. His only goal was to trash me to the child and in his words, “make her hate me by the time she was 12”. This behavior was foreign to her as I had never badmouthed him and she rebelled against the horrible things said about her mommy. (sound like parent alienation anyone?) Better believe due to her complete disdain of the “professional” in that room and now who she knows her father to be, I was said to have parentally alienated the child as they for sure would not own the destruction of the process! It must be the mother. They knew darn well what they did in there.
    The child finally took it upon herself to record this “professional” and the father as they badmouthed me and I of course was blamed for “wiring” my child. I did not. But it did get the “professional” out of our lives after I settled for a sanction as long she was removed.
    Our society is misguided in family law. The process is very detrimental and that word is pathetic compared to the actual damage our family law system is doing.
    It is nationwide. It is heartbreaking. I don’t even know how to pick up the pieces of what I am now left with.
    This child was an honor roll student with a purple belt in taekwondo and had to quit yet watched her fellow students gain their blackbelts. She is so angry and this is just my story.
    You can think I am liar or something is being left out of the story or whatever but you better believe it because if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
    These insane pyschologists have God complexes and there are mental illnesses within their community. We have given them insane amount of power and they can’t handle it. I have known professional psychologists who are great. I have not seen them on the court rosters. They have power, immunity and no transparency. They have unlimited amounts of time on these cases and if they are bad, your child/ren are toast.
    It’s a money mill for sure. It’s damaging for sure. There’s no recourse for the damage for sure. What do you do???????????????????

  2. This is standard operating procedure in child custody cases, throughout the US. It has become the norm
    in order to eliminate one parent from a child’s life. Where there is no abuse this practice should be outlawed
    since it is inhumane and demoralizing to one parent and the child. Not to mention numerious civil rights violations. There are constitutional clauses that are specific to a parents rights to raise his or her child. This includes fathers. There should be no evaluation in the case of two fit parents. End of this story. This would fall
    within the frame work of the US Constitution. Laws and policies that over reach the frame work of this document should be practiced in the country that it was written for. The “Best interest of the Child”, not really a standard should be removed from law practice where it is subjective and should not ever be applied as
    an opinion. Or an intellectural application to deprive a parent of his or her constitutional rights.

    In the case of a falsely accused parent. The accuser should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Not civil law but crimminal law. Special practices to ensure a conviction of the accused should be removed from family law practice. The overwhelming majority of people are law abiding. All accused must be considered inocent until proven guilty and not the other way around.

    Women seek equal rights in family court are welcome since this means that they are entitle to 50% and men are entitle to the other 50%.

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