Custody Evaluation and the 730 Report: The Personal Side
Most parents arrive at a 730 evaluation full of anxiety - regardless of whether they agreed to it or not. These feelings are natural. The idea that you are being put under a microscope to be studied is enough to make even the most confident person a little anxious.
The battle appears to be "who is the better parent" and that's a difficult reality to face.
Because of this, the parent undergoing evaluation will almost always put their best foot forward. This is to be expected, but understand that the evaluation is about much more than this.
The job of the evaluator is to learn about the family so he or she can gain enough insight to bring an educated evaluation to the court. The tasks at hand involve making recommendations on custody, visitation, and the best interest of the child, all of which are outlined in the final 730 report.
What Does "Best Interest" Mean?
The term "best interest" is not strictly defined within law or psychology. The evaluator must depend on research to arrive at a decision that ensures the child will be well taken care of. He or she also needs to look at all family members and the relationships between each member, including the children, to understand parenting practices and other issues that could factor into the child's long-term development.
Long-term development has to with a child ability to grow into a successful adult. This means the child must be shielded from the potential trauma of divorce. Their physical, academic, social, and emotional needs should also be taken into consideration.
The Court Wants Both Parents to be Involved
Successful adults function well intellectually, emotionally, socially, and occupationally thanks to their upbringing. Each parent has their own parenting style and strengths. The hope is that between the two parents the child receives the care required.
No parent is perfect, but he or she may be "good enough." The hope is that the child's parents are both good enough and willing to get along with the other parent in order to raise the child well.
What is Involved in the 730 Custody Evaluation Process?
Most evaluations take one to three months to complete, since there are several stages to complete. Not all evaluations follow the same process, but any evaluation could include the following:
- Interview of each parent, family members, friends, teachers, and other third-parties
- Parent-child observation
- Psychological testing
- Review of reports and other documents, and
- Home visits.
In an interview, the evaluator collects background information and learns about each parties concerns and desires. During parent interviews, the evaluator will ask about personal history including medical, marital, personal, and occupational history. The evaluator will want to know about their relationship with the child and perceptions of the child's well being.
The evaluator will discuss feelings toward the child as well as information about the child's relationships with the family, special issues, and overall adjustment to the divorce. When the child is dealing with complex issues, such as child abuse or medical and educational issues, the evaluator will address those concerns as well.
While the evaluator will have many questions to ask, it is also an opportunity for the party being interviewed to discuss concerns or point out information that may seem relevant.
It's likely your attorney or a loved one will coach you on what to say and what not to say during an evaluation. While it's understandable why you wouldn't want to damage your case, it's more important to discuss your concerns with the examiner. This way, when issues come up later - either expectedly or unexpectedly - you at least come out looking like a credible witness, since you addressed the issue on your own.
Parties other than parents and children may be interviewed in divorces with controversy. The examiner may ask each parent to provide a list of people to interview who will support their respective sides. With this, the parent will offer permission to speak with those individuals who may include teachers, therapists, and doctors.
An examiner may want to observe the parent and the child together either during a videotaped interaction (i.e., events around bed time) or at a scheduled time in the examiner's office. Some examiners will give the parent and the child a task or a game to play together or the examiner might just ask a few questions. The technique will depend on the situation and what the court orders.
It is common for an examiner to administer or ask another professional to complete psychological testing. The test provides a comprehensive view of the person. Some of the items addressed include:
- Strengths and weaknesses;
- Attitudes and beliefs;
- Interpersonal behavior patterns;
- Intellectual and cognitive capacities; and
- Parenting skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
The items addressed will depend on the family composition and specific needs of the family. For example, the examiner may try to figure out why a bright child is underperforming in school. In a situation such as this he or she will conduct testing relating to this particular issue and then address those facts in the evaluation report.
Test categories include personality, ability tests, and specialized tests. The familiar MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) and the Rorschach (sometimes referred to as the "inkblot test.") are often used for the personality tests.
In the MMPI the test-taker answers "true" or "false" questions, which are then analyzed. This results in a personality profile and a personality description.
The Rorschach test requires the administrator to inquire about inkblots. The test taker's responses are recorded for analysis by the test administrator later. The results of both tests are included in the final 730 report.
The test results are generated by computer programs and based on a comparison of the subject's scores with the pattern of scores of other test takers. Using a statistical approach, the computer programs make the closest match to one of many personality profiles.
Ideally the results of the MMPI and Rorschach tests would have similar results. In other words, if the MMPI profiled a test taker as a depressed person, then the Rorschach test would result in the same. By administering both tests the examiner can have confidence in the findings placed in the 730 report. If there are discrepancies between the two tests, then the evaluator may conduct additional testing and interviewing to come to a conclusion.
It is natural and common for subjects to feel anxious while test taking. Sometimes a test taker may second guess their test answers; the tests are designed with this in mind. Rest assured that if you answer honestly with your first instinctual reaction, the examiner will most likely get an accurate picture of you.
The American Psychological Association guidelines state that test-takers are entitled to the test results. Most evaluators will do this face-to-face with you in their office so they can explain the findings with you and ask if you agree or disagree. If you disagree, then this gives the examiner a chance to revaluate the findings. Either way, it's an opportunity for you to learn about yourself.
Review of Reports and Other Documents
An evaluator will want to review medical records, school records, and other documents that talk about the child's performance and well-being. You will need to give consent for the evaluator to obtain those records, or the judge will order that certain documents be provided. If the court orders the review, you have no choice unless you challenge the court's decision with the help of your lawyer.
An examiner may set up a home visit (in both homes if the parents are separated) to supplement information obtained at the office. The home provides a more natural environment and gives the evaluator a window into the child's behavior at home.
During a home visit, the examiner may do additional interviews that could include questions about home safety (accident prevention), cleanliness, and look to see if there is space for the child to play. The examiner may also schedule the visit during a time when the family is involved in normal activities such as dinner or bedtime so that he or she can take note of regular every-day activities.
Determining Parenting Characteristics
Once the examiner compiles information from the various evaluation steps, he or she will identify parenting characteristics and weigh relevant facts, which could include any of the following:
- Quality attachment
Do the parent and child have a secure attachment? Many researchers have stated that a child exposed to rejection impedes emotional and social development.
- Parent's perception
Parents need to perceive and respond to their child's needs accordingly. Parents should adjust parenting tactics to meet the changing needs of the child.
- No pressure
Every child should be free from the responsibility of having to meet their parent's needs. Children should not be used for self-gratification or inconsistently attended to. In other words, smothering and excessive disengagement do not help a child.
- Transmitting values of the culture
More of a practical concern than a value judgment, a child raised in a family with "fringe" values may not identify with society at large. Take for example an immigrant family who upholds "old values" as the child struggles to adapt to a new environment. The result is a child who has seemingly "deviant" values not reflected by local standards.
- Relationship quality
Rejection, especially chronic or serious rejection, distorts a child's development. But acceptance, support, love and understanding promote a child's development. Overt rejection is easy to detect, but it's harder to detect when it is covered up with indulgence or overprotection.
- Relationship continuity
Continuous care is important for a number of reasons especially in early infancy. One of the major factors is the item listed above (item number one) that discusses how disrupted continuity may increase the risk of attachment difficulties.
The child custody evaluation process is a long and complex process included in what the law calls "discovery." The results of the 730 evaluation are an important aspect of your divorce case or custody case as well as the best interests for your family.
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