Often times, California Family Court Judges order a Child Custody Evaluation, also called a “730 Evaluation,” to look into the mental health and parenting practices of one or both of the parents. While it’s the Judge that orders the Evaluation, either party in a Dissolution case may request a 730 Evaluation by agreement and filing a “Stipulation.”
Regardless of the type of evaluation conducted, the reasons for it and the qualifications of an evaluator remain the same.
In some California jurisdictions a “Mini-Evaluation” or “Focused-Issue Evaluation” is allowed. In this situation, the 730 Evaluation is less extensive and may only cover one particular issue. A “Mini-Evaluation” may also be ordered to help speed things up, since a thorough evaluation can take some time. Regardless of the type of evaluation conducted, the reasons for it and the qualifications of an evaluator remain the same.
When is a 730 Evaluation Necessary?
When the best interest of the child is in question, it is likely that a California Judge, or a Judge in any state for that matter, would request a 730 Evaluation. Custody and visitation orders are often based on the findings of these evaluations, which could be ordered for a number of reasons, including:
- Concerns about child abuse.
- Substance abuse.
- Mental health problems.
- One parent wishes to move out of state and the other parent objects.
- Questionable parenting practices that could have a negative impact on a child.
- The parents are unable to agree on the custodial arrangement.
- There is a question about the child’s upbringing.
Who are the Custody Evaluators?
In California, a custody evaluation can be conducted by any of the following qualified mental health professionals:
- Qualified social workers
- Marriage and Family Therapists conducts a custody evaluation. However, formal psychological testing can only be completed by a trained psychologist.
Even if a psychologist serves as an evaluator, he or she may rely on another psychologist to complete the testing and then interpret the test, since it is a highly-skilled area. A psychological test can reveal personality and family dynamics, as well as reveal potential mental health and parenting problems. The tester does not make custody recommendations; the evaluator will put their recommendation, which is often based on testing results, into a formal report to the court.
Who Chooses the Evaluator?
In California, either the Judge selects an evaluator or the Judge asks the parties to submit a list of evaluators, which the Judge will then choose from. In some situations, the two sides can agree on an evaluator and choose without input from a Judge.
Criteria to be Met for a Child Custody Evaluator
All evaluators, whether an individual psychologist or a panel of evaluators, need to meet certain criteria.
- Evaluators must prove they qualify under California Family Code 3110 by filing a Declaration.
- California Judicial Council requires custody-related training including training in psychological and developmental needs of children and parent-child relationships.
- Code of Civil Procedure section 2032 states that all evaluators must have at least five years of postgraduate experience diagnosing emotional and mental disorders.
- Every evaluator is bound by a code of conduct (the rules that govern the ethics of a profession). For example, if the evaluator is a psychologist, he or she is bound by the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (1992). All evaluators follow the California Guidelines for Child Custody evaluations in Divorce Proceedings, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and the Business and Professions Code.
If you are able to choose the evaluator for your case, your attorney will most likely have suggestions for you based on their previous experience. Most Judges and attorneys have preferences based on the evaluator’s reputation as being “neutral” (not pro-mother or pro-father) and their timeliness. Just like in any profession, some evaluators are more efficient and thorough than others.
Results of the Evaluation Report
Before a custody hearing, the evaluator will release a report to all parties involved, including the court. If both parties accept the report, then it is submitted into evidence. If there are disagreements, then either party can rebut the findings.
What if You Disagree with the Findings of Your Custody Evaluations?
In this situation, another mental health professional can be asked to review the evaluation and to testify in court about the report’s shortcomings or issues.
While the evaluator does offer input and insight into your child custody case, it is ultimately the Judge that makes the decision. In the Judge’s consideration of the report, he or she will look to ensure that the evaluation was executed fairly and whether it passes an evidentiary threshold (evidence can be accepted if it is “preponderance of the evidence”). The evaluation is only one thing that the Judge considers. Remember, the Judge’s main focus to uncover what is in the “best interest of the child.”