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Child Custody Investigations
The court may order an investigation in custody or visitation disputes if the judge believes more information is necessary to resolve complex issues. Mediators, parents, and attorneys may also request that an investigation be conducted if it would help to clarify allegations and promote settlement of issues in the best interest of the children.
We’ve divided the information on this page into the following three sections:
Click on any question under these headings for more information.
What is a Child Custody Investigation? +
A Child Custody Investigation is:
- A process initiated by the court.
- An impartial assessment of both parents and their family members.
- Focused on the strengths and weaknesses of both parents’ parenting skills, child development and family dynamics.
- A description of past events, present resources and the future needs of the family
- Is focused on the best interests of the child(ren).
A Child Custody Investigation is NOT:
- A process for finding fault or blame or a process for taking one parent’s side in the custody dispute.
What are the investigator’s qualifications? +
The child custody investigator is a member of the court staff with specialized education and training in the effects that divorce/separation has on families, child development, domestic violence and child abuse. The custody investigator is familiar with the factors the Court must consider in making decisions about custody and visitation. The role of the child custody investigator is to assist the Court by preparing an impartial assessment of your situation. The investigator is not an advocate for either parent’s position but remains neutral while clearly focusing on the needs and best interests of your child(ren).
What happens in an investigation? +
When you receive an order for a full child custody investigation, you must complete the questionnaire provided by the Court and return it to the courthouse within seven days. When a partial investigation is ordered, questionnaires are to be returned to the investigator within 24 hours. Partial investigations address very specific pieces of information requested by the Court. When a partial investigation is ordered, the investigator must stay within the scope of the Court Order and cannot gather any additional information other than what is specifically named in the Court Order. You will be asked to sign a consent authorizing the investigator to obtain school, medical, psychological, social services, law enforcement and/or other information that will contribute to an understanding of the family history and circumstances. After the questionnaire is turned in, the court investigator will contact you to discuss the investigation.
The investigation may consist of separate interviews with each parent. This will give you the opportunity to present issues and concerns about your child(ren) and the other parent. The investigator may want to make a home visit to inspect your home. Observing parent/child interaction will be done if the investigator feels it is necessary.
The investigator may meet with your child(ren) individually in a neutral location. This usually takes place at the child(ren)’s school. The investigator understands that your child(ren) may be experiencing a broad range of emotions about their family situation. Interviews and observations are oriented to the age of your child(ren). Children under the age of 5 are typically not interviewed. The investigator will not ask children directly to make a choice between their parents. However, their thoughts, feelings and experiences will be important in understanding their needs.
The investigator may talk directly to school personnel, day care providers, social workers, therapists and other individuals and/or professionals who have been involved with your family. The judge may also need to evaluate the mental state of each parent. Psychological, drug and/or alcohol testing may be requested. The evaluations require the specific expertise of a trained professional whose report may be incorporated into the child custody investigation or submitted separately to the court.
What should I do to be prepared for the investigation? +
Complete the Child Custody Investigation Questionnaire and provide it to your investigator. (click here to download Child Custody Investigation Questionnaire or here for the Child Custody “Partial” Investigation Questionnaire).
Keep the following suggestions in mind:
You may have negative feelings toward the other parent which may cause you to criticize things you may not earlier have identified as serious. Remember that the investigator is addressing the welfare of your child(ren) and not punishing parents for bad behavior. Do not look at the child custody investigation as a win/lose situation, but as an avenue to arrive at a parenting plan that is in the best interests of your child(ren).
In order to obtain the most accurate information, it is crucial for you to be open and honest with the investigator. Ask questions if you don’t understand something about the investigation.
Separate your personal problems with the other parent from your parenting concerns.
Specific suggestions to prepare for your investigation include:
Turn in the child custody questionnaire on time and make sure it is complete. Contact the investigator, whose phone number is on the cover sheet of the questionnaire packet, if you have any questions. The investigation will not begin until the questionnaire is turned in.
Keep your appointments and be on time. Contact the investigator at least 24 hours in advance if you need to cancel or reschedule your appointments.
Make notes of specific information you want to share or questions you want to ask the investigator.
Contact the investigator if there are any changes in your circumstances or the status of your case.
How long does the investigation take? +
It is not possible to determine exactly how long it will take to complete your investigation, though ten to twelve weeks is not uncommon for a full child custody investigation. Much of it depends upon the complexity of your situation and the amount of information that is obtained. When other evaluations or out of state studies are required, additional time is necessary.
Is there a fee associated with the investigation? +
A fee of $50.00 per hour is charged for the investigation. If you are not able to agree about the responsibility of the associated costs, the court will determine which parent will be responsible for the costs, or will divide the costs between the parents.
What if we reach an agreement about custody during the investigation? +
You and the other parent are encouraged to reach your own agreement about custody of your child(ren). We strongly believe that children are best served when their parents are able to agree and plan together and we encourage you to take whatever steps you can to determine your own parenting plan.
If you and the other parent wish to return to mediation to settle your dispute, please contact the investigator. The investigation can be suspended or placed on hold while you attempt to reach an agreement. You may want to contact Family Court Services at (530) 822-3305 to make a voluntary mediation appointment or schedule one online after you have completed the Online Mediation Orientation course.
The investigation is because of the other parent's problems; why am I being investigated? +
Often times child custody investigations evaluate both parents. While there may be several allegations or concerns about the other parent, the court may want information regarding the quality of parenting of each parent.
Will the investigator come to my home? +
If the court ordered a Partial Child Custody Investigation, there may not be an in-home evaluation. If the court has ordered a Full Child Custody Investigation, the investigator will likely inspect your home. Factors such as geographical distance may prevent this from occurring.
Will the children be seen in each parent’s home? +
The children may be seen in each parent’s home; however, this is not required and is at the discretion of the investigator. Factors such as court orders, geographical distance, school and work schedules may preclude this from happening.
Is there a minimum age in order for my child to be interviewed? +
The general limit is age 5. However, at the discretion of the investigator, younger children may be interviewed. The investigator is trained in conducting appropriate interviews with children.
Can I be present when my child is being interviewed? +
Children are usually interviewed alone. The investigator must make efforts to reduce the possibility that what the child reports is influenced by the presence of a parent. There are cases when the child and the parent are observed together, but the child will also likely be interviewed alone.
Can I have my attorney present during the interview? +
Attorneys are not permitted to be present.
Will I have to miss work? Will my child have to miss school? +
You may need to miss work. Appointments for interviews or home visits are scheduled during regular court business hours, between 8:30 a.m. and must end by 5 p.m. There are no evening or weekend appointments. Children may be pulled out of class for an interview on school grounds.
What happens to the information in the report? +
The final product of most investigations is a written report to the judge. The report organizes the information obtained to give the judge a clear picture of your family. About one week before the hearing, you and the other parent, or your attorney if you have one, along with your child(ren)’s attorney, if one has been appointed, will also receive a copy of the report. The information in the report is strictly confidential and is not to be shared with any outside parties. The report is filed in a confidential section of the court file and is not available to the public.
Can a written report be changed after it has been filed with the court? +
No. However, if there is new information the investigator may file an addendum. If an addendum is filed, the investigator will state whether or not the new information has any effect on the evaluation or recommendations made in the original report.
What if I disagree with the written report? +
You may not agree with the investigator’s evaluation and recommendation or other information contained in the report. You (or your attorney) may object to the investigator's report at your court hearing. It is important to remember that the report is to assist the judge and is only part of the evidence the judge considers in ordering a parenting plan.
When the judge hears your case, you will have an opportunity to question the investigator about the report, prepare arguments challenging the investigation and to present evidence in support of your position regarding custody. You have the right and ability to challenge the contents of the report, including any concerns you have about the investigation process, in court.