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Child custody disputes aren't always part and parcel to a split by parents. They do occur, however. And as we noted in a post back in August, when they develop, family courts in California may order a custody evaluation. What this entails is an investigation by a neutral third party who then makes recommendations for final custody arrangements.

Such investigations examine the various facets of how parents interact with their children in everyday settings. Evaluators attempt to gauge how well the parents communicate with each other and reach compromises. The state of each parent's home is likely to be checked, not just for cleanliness but also for how certain activities like meals and bedtime are handled.

Obviously, how you prepare for these kinds of evaluations can influence the eventual recommendations made. So we hope to offer a view in this post of some of the things parents can do to get set.

As with all things related to child custody and support, the court will be looking to determine what is in the best interest of the child. What that means from the outset is that parents need to try to examine their individual goals from the standpoint of how they fit into a child-centered parenting plan.

For example, in the course of resolving child custody disagreements, mediation is likely to be called for. There may be only one such session, but it could be reflected in any outcome so it is important. An attorney can help a parent identify what information is important for mediation and organize it along lines that could be helpful during a later evaluation.

Before any actual home visit, you will want to have done a safety check of the surroundings. The home doesn't have to be pristine, but it should be picked up. Beds should be made. The fridge and shelves should display healthy eating habits.

When the interviewer comes, be sure every resident is on hand. Turn off the TV or computer games during the visit. Offer the evaluator a glass of water if you wish. Then invite him or her to choose where and how interviews will be held.

Many of these things may seem to be matters of common courtesy, but they can be daunting to think of and deal with in the moment. So preparation in consultation with experienced counsel is always a good idea.

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