Parents who find themselves going through a child custody investigation can undergo a lot of stress and confusion. These investigations often result from one parent's allegations against the other of child abuse, neglect, substance abuse or similar issues that concern the health, safety or welfare of the children. These investigations often occur when a divorce and child custody battle collide.
Expert divorce lawyers who have experience handling high conflict custody cases can help you understand when you should request a Child Custody Investigation (CCI) and when to stay away from them. These investigations aren't proper for every case and in this article we will look at a parent's options when presented with the question of whether or not to request or oppose a child custody investigation.
The purpose of a child custody investigation
The purpose of a child custody investigation is an objective and expedited review of the facts and evidence to help the court make a decision as to the children's best interest consistent with California child custody laws. Since these investigations are handled internally within the Orange County Family Court and through its employee investigators, it involves a very different process than a formal and private forensic child custody evaluation with an Evidence Code 730 evaluator or the appointment of a lawyer for the children.
The difference between a child custody investigation and a psychological evaluation
The substantive difference between a CCI and a court appointed psychological evaluation is the detail that goes into the process. A CCI does not involve psychological testing and the investigator relies more on the statements he or she takes of the parents and witnesses as well as a review of documents and records. Furthermore, an evaluation is conducted by a clinical psychologist who attempts to obtain a detailed and lengthy understanding of the parents' history and parenting skills to provide the court with long-term recommendations. A CCI is more focused on addressing immediate or even urgent needs.
The difference between a child custody investigation and the appointment of a minor's counsel
Cases that involve appointment of a minor's counsel often involve older children (typically over the age of 8 and more commonly teenagers) and also do not involve the more serious cases of abuse or neglect. If the children need a voice, whether that is for the children to state a custody and visitation preference or for any other reason, minor's counsel can be helpful in that regard. Similar to a child custody investigation, the minor's counsel can interview the parents and witnesses. However, minor's counsel is rarely involved in cases where the child is not able to assist with the investigation because of his or her age or other limitations.
Are child custody investigations helpful?
They are more helpful than a "he said, she said" court battle between the parents and two lawyers arguing each parent's position without any objective presentation of the facts. Interview of the parents and witnesses, review of necessary documents which include medical records, photographs and videos and other pertinent information that relates to the case helps bring the issues in focus for the court before hearing extensive testimony or arguments from each side.
In cases that need an immediate snapshot of what is really going on, a CCI can aid the court in making temporary orders.
Should you agree to a CCI?
The answer will depend on how complicated the child custody case is. If it involves a case that needs to go into the psychology of the parents or the children, and look at the case from a forensic perspective and the deep seeded issues that are long-term and cannot simply be solved by interviews and review of records, then an child custody investigation may not be the best choice. In such a situation, if a third person must be involved, a formal forensic psychological evaluation may be more appropriate.
If the case involves the preference of the child or children regarding visitation and the child or children are old enough to state a preference, the appointment of minor's counsel may be a better choice.
How long will the case be delayed by the investigation?
You and your family lawyer should consider whether or not a child custody investigation will cause unnecessary delays. While it is sometimes difficult to get court time due to the backlog in Family Court, as well as budgetary issues, a simple matter that involves the testimony of the parents and minimal documents generally should not go to a CCI. That is partly because the internal investigators are already handling a high volume of cases and to take on cases that do not involve imminent issues or danger to the children can be a waste of their resources.
In Orange County child custody investigations can take as little a couple of weeks or as long as 4-5 months. Before you ask for one or agree to one, make sure you understand the important cost vs. benefit, as well as, risk vs. the potential reward of a fair outcome for your children.
Once the investigation is complete
After a child custody investigation is complete, the investigator generally submits a report to the court which includes all of the pertinent information that he or she discovered. This report can be accompanied by live testimony whereat the child custody investigator will state to the court the substance of his or her report and go into detailed reasons behind it.
Because such investigations involve children, they are generally closed to the public and everyone other than the parties and lawyers are typically excluded from watching the live proceedings. This is done to protect the privacy of the children as well as the parents.
Hearsay statements are permitted in a CCI
Child custody investigators sometimes rely on hearsay evidence. That is because the California Family Code permits the investigators to rely on such information and the judge is allowed to further rely on this information to expedite and simplify the process. For those who are not aware what hearsay is, hearsay is an out-of-court statement made by a declarant. The declarant is the person who makes the statement. For parents, this can be a concern if witnesses have been coached related to the information the investigator is relying upon.
What do you do when the child custody investigation report is positive?
Let's assume the report is favorable to your position. You can simply stipulate (a fancy, legal word for "agree") to the recommendations. If the other parent resists, he or she is generally afforded a hearing by the Court.
What do you do when the child custody investigation report is negative?
First, relax. A Court isn't permitted to simply rubber stamp a recommendation without reviewing it, considering it and determining whether or not the recommendations are consistent with the children's best interest. While family court judges do take reports seriously and, when they are well-reasoned, the judge will likely give the report great weight. If you have facts and evidence the investigator got wrong or failed to consider, you should consider challenging the recommendations and requesting that the court not follow them.
Do we have time to speak with you in person regarding any actual or potential child custody investigations in your case?
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