If there is a dispute over which parent should have physical custody of the children, the California family court could appoint an investigator from Family Court Services to the case. Their responsibility is to conduct a child custody investigation similar to a “730 custody evaluations” defined under California Evidence Code 730.
These types of child custody investigations are made by the court under California Family Code 3111 but are not as comprehensive as the more popular 730 evaluations. The investigation is paid for by both parents and takes up to three months to complete. A court-ordered child custody investigation in the state of California typically includes the following:
- home visits by the investigator from Family Court Services,
- personal interviews with parents and children (depending on age),
- interviews with other relevant people, such as family members.
The assigned investigator will gather information about the child's current living situation and other related child custody and visitation issues. They will speak directly with both parents, the children and review the criminal history of any other person living in the same house with the kids. Of course, they will also interview family members and friends.
Further, they will closely examine the family court records and any information from Child Protective Services, police records, school and daycare records, and even their medical records. Most parents who are getting divorced want to remain heavily involved in their child's life, which sometimes means they will have to fight for child custody.
All California family courts consider a child's well-being as a top priority. This means they will review the circumstances surrounding the child's relationship with each parent to decide child custody matters. Parents need to understand that a family court judge will base their custody decisions on what they believe is in the child's best interest.
Preparation for a child custody investigation is critical for a favorable outcome. Our Los Angeles family law and divorce lawyers provide a detailed review below to give you a better understanding.
What Is a Child Custody Investigation in California?
Child custody cases are often a complex legal matter that seems overwhelming for most couples who are commonly good parents with a solid emotional bond with their kids. However, claims made by one parent aren't always sufficient to convince a family court judge to decide a child custody case in their favor.
Parents must understand that the judge can't review prior years of their life to confirm you raised your children well and maintained a close relationship. You could have earned an award for “parent of the year,” but the family court can't see evidence of it or depend on what a parent claims. Put simply, you have to prove your case.
This is where some family law attorneys could recommend discussing the case with a private investigator to find out if they could be of assistance. But first, you need to know a child custody investigation is NOT an attempt to dig up “baggage” on a parent and discover all their faults to take a side in a child custody dispute.
The custody investigation is primarily designed as a process to help a family law court decide what is in the best interest of the child. This process has several steps, such as:
- a divorce case is filed, and the child custody process begins, which is a review of both parents and other members of the family;
- the review includes a parent's strengths and weaknesses related to their parenting skills by looking at past and present events and their ability to provide for the kids;
- the overall family situation will also be evaluated, along with the child's needs.
A child custody investigation makes most parents feel very anxious and nervous, but the process can be easier to handle if you know what happens during an investigation.
What are the Steps in a Child Custody Investigation?
Let's review some of the general steps below of a child custody investigation in California. The family law court could order only a partial child custody investigation where you would only have to provide specific information.
However, if you receive a court order for a full child custody investigation, you will usually be asked to complete a form with several questions that you will need to promptly send back to the court. Once you return the questionnaire to the law court, the investigator assigned to your case will contact you to go over the details of the child custody investigation.
While the investigation is ongoing, you must give the investigator consent to access the child's medical records, school records, police reports, and other related documentation. Typically, the investigator will interview both parents, other family members, teachers, nannies and might even decide to have a meeting with the child.
The child custody investigation could take up to 2-3 months or longer to complete, depending on the scope of the study and whether the court ordered a partial or complete investigation.
How Can You Get Ready for the Investigation?
The results of a child custody investigation are significant, and you need to prepare in advance to increase the chances of a favorable outcome. It's essential to understand the crucial steps before the California child custody investigation process begins, which are listed below.
Consult with a family law attorney
You will most likely have many questions about child custody and should meet with an experienced family law lawyer. You must be honest with them and admit any prior mistakes that could impact the investigation. Otherwise, your lawyer will not be prepared, which could affect the case's outcome.
A family law lawyer could give you crucial information on who you should include on your witness list that would prove most beneficial to the outcome of your child custody case.
During a child custody investigation, you will usually be required to provide information about anyone involved in the child's life. You need to have gathered this information in advance. Criminal background checks on anyone in the home could be requested. If you believe this could hurt the case, you might want to discuss the details with a private investigator.
You should never allow anyone with serious felony convictions, especially sexual related, around your children. Don't allow anything that can be seen as harmful to your child in your home, such as someone with drug addiction.
Take daily notes
It would be wise to keep notes on the details of your daily time with your children. This information could prove crucial in showing you are a responsible parent who has the child's best interest in mind. You should also include how much time each parent spends with the kids, details on child support payments, and routine daily activities. You need to spend as much time with your child during the investigation.
Avoid any arguments with the ex-spouse
This is when emotions can run high, but you need to remember it's not in your best interest to get into any conflict with your ex-spouse. This is especially true of getting into a verbal argument in front of the kids while attempting to prepare for a child custody investigation.
Don't make false allegations
You should never attempt to exaggerate or make false statements about your ex-spouse. Let your family law lawyer speak on your behalf on why you deserve child custody. It might seem essential to tell the investigator information you believe could negatively impact your child, but it could hurt your case without hard evidence and witnesses. Don't forget, it's not about you, instead, what's best for your child.
Consult with a private Investigator
In some cases, you might need to show the court proof that your ex-spouse is not a suitable sole-custody parent. A private investigator could assist you in gathering information proving you have a legitimate concern over the safety and well-being of your children. Perhaps they can prove that your ex-spouse is involved in drug or alcohol abuse, drunk driving, or other illegal behavior with surveillance footage.
Family Law Attorneys for California Child Custody Cases
If you have to go through a child custody investigation, then preparation is the key to reducing the level of stress and giving you the best chance of winning. The list of suggestions above is just a few tips that could be helpful to prepare for this crucial investigation.
Every case is unique, and the best strategy will depend on various factors. However, if you make an effort to understand the child custody investigation process better, you can significantly improve your chances of reaching a successful outcome.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys located in Los Angeles County. We serve people across Southern California. Our firm offers a free case consultation by calling (818) 528-3471, or by filling out our contact form.