Child custody cases can become quite contentious at times. One mother unsatisfied with the custody orders decided to sue the custody evaluator in civil court. In a case titled Bergernon v. Boyd, the California Court of Appeal affirmed a decision by the civil court to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that custody evaluators cannot be sued for the decisions they make.
This case was contentious enough that the family court judge appointed a psychologist as a custody evaluator to take a look at the parents’ circumstances and make interim custody orders. The mother was not satisfied with the temporary orders made by the custody evaluator and filed a lawsuit in civil court against her. The custody evaluator successfully got the case dismissed twice by filing a demurrer. This is a method used in California civil court to request a case be dismissed for lack of legal basis.
The custody evaluator claimed that quasi-judicial privilege protected her from a lawsuit. Essentially, her actions as a custody evaluator were taken in her capacity as a judicial officer, acting under the authority of the family court judge. Just as judges can not be sued for the decision they make beyond appealing those decision, a custody evaluator appointed to make custody determinations for a case can not be sued for the custody orders she makes.
This case serves as an important reminder that things aren’t always going to work out the way you want when you give up control over your case to a judge or a custody evaluator. In either case, somebody who doesn’t know your children is going to step in and try to decide what works best for the children.
This case also illustrates how out of hand cases can get when parents fight in court over the custody of their children. During a period of a little over a year, the parents were in court eight times to discuss issues relating to child custody. The sad part is, parents who end up in court this often before coming up with a finalized parenting plan are also the ones most likely to have difficulty working out changes to the plan down the road, thus needing more hearings to work out any changes.
If you are about to file for divorce or dissolution of domestic partnership and there are children involved, especially young children, I urge you to consider the option of mediation before hiring an aggressive attorney who would be willing to help you fight over time with your children. At Law Office of Paul D. McGuire, I try to educate every one of my clients about some ways that they can learn to co-parent and guide them to available resources when they are beyond my abilities. If you want to minimize the damage to your children from the divorce process, I hope you will consider taking a more reasonable approach.