In California, 730 Child Custody Evaluations have become commonplace in helping the courts determine what is in the best interest of the child. A 730 evaluation is an in-depth analysis of the family and the member’s relationships with one another.
Among other actions, the 730 evaluator conducts interviews with the child, as well as significant adults in the child’s life, including the parents and stepparents. Additional psychological testing may be used to provide supplementary information that cannot be gleaned from interviews.
Understanding the Role of the 730 Evaluator from a Legal Perspective
The job of the evaluator is to conduct an objective evaluation, which includes the interviews and reviews of relevant reports and other documentation, and then provide the court with a report that includes informed recommendations about what is in the child’s best interest.
A 730 child custody evaluator’s role is to “consider the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child within the scope and purpose of the evaluation as defined by the court order”, according to California Rules of Court 5.200. During the evaluation process, the evaluator must minimize potential psychological trauma to the child, and include an age-appropriate explanation of the process to the child during their first meeting. The evaluator must also strive to maintain confidentiality between the child and therapist, and the evaluator cannot pressure the child to voice a parental preference or make any recommendations to involved parties.
A 730 evaluation can be agreed upon by both parents, requested by one parent (subject to court approval), or stipulated by a judge. Regardless of how the evaluation comes about, the evaluator’s role remains the same from a legal standpoint.
The role of the 730 evaluator is to assess the family and determine, based on that assessment, what is in the child’s best interests relative to custody. In order to make that assessment, the evaluator may conduct the following actions on the court’s behalf:
- Conduct at least one interview with each parent.
- Facilitate psychological testing
- Interview peripheral people in the child’s life (therapists, doctors, family friends, step-siblings)
- Observe interactions between the parents and children
- Review relevant documents (school records, medical records)
- Conduct a home visit
From a legal perspective, the 730 evaluator serves as a sort of eyes and ears for the court from the point of view of the child’s best interest. After compiling and evaluating all of the necessary information, the evaluator prepares a report with recommendations and presents it to the court. The evaluator’s report is an invaluable tool used by the judge to decide custody arrangements.
Also, only qualified mental health professionals may serve as 730 evaluators. The list of legally qualified evaluators may include licensed psychiatrists or clinical psychologists, marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, or marriage, family and child counselors.
Communications You Can and Cannot Have with the 730 Evaluator – The Legal Standards
As a representative of the court, a 730 evaluator must follow certain laws relative to communicating with parents and other interested parties during the evaluation process. California Rules of Court 5.235 prohibits ex parte communications, which is defined as “a direct or indirect communication on the substance of a pending case without the knowledge, presence, or consent of all parties involved in the matter.”
Certain exceptions exist, including times when communication is required to set up an appointment. Examples of additional exceptions are as follows:
- All parties may enter into an open court or written agreements allowing ex parte communication between the evaluator and the parties attorneys.
- When necessary to investigate or disclose a potential or actual dual relationship or conflict of interest.
- Minor’s counsel is interviewing a mediator.
- As expressly authorized by the court.
- Evaluator is advising the court of the belief that a restraining order is mandated.
Other exceptions do apply, and should be explained by the court and/or attorneys as needed. For example, an evaluator may have to warn against threats of violent behavior by one parent against the other, or the child.
How to Present Your Case – The Dos and Don’ts
Sufficiently preparing for a 730 interview shows that you are respectful of the process, and that you are taking it seriously. Follow these guidelines when presenting yourself to the interviewer.
- Show respect: You may only see the evaluator once or twice, and that impression is how you will be judged. The evaluator is a professional with years of training and experience, but he or she is not your personal therapist. So, do not vent to the evaluator about cost, time or effort. Stay focused and remain respectful.
- Be punctual and dress appropriately: Present your best image by dressing professionally, leaving casual attire at home. The way you dress says a lot about how seriously you take the process. Arriving late gives an indication that you aren’t taking the interview seriously, and that you may not be responsible or committed enough to follow through with your commitment to your child.
- Focus on the child: Arrive prepared with a list of the things you do with your child, and discuss the importance of why you do those things, and the value of the bond you share. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about your relationship with your child.
- Do not talk down the other parent: Venting about the other parent just makes you look bad. However, if there are legitimate, documented concerns (physical abuse, substance abuse), discuss them calmly, and bring supporting evidence (police reports or medical records, for example).
- Bring documentation: Along with evidence of negative parental behavior, arrive at the interview with any other documentation you feel may help your case. For example:
- telephone bills showing ongoing communication between you and your child;
- logs of times you allowed contact between your child and the other parent;
- logs of times when the other parent broke custody agreements; or character reference letters from community leaders (pastor, teacher).
- Also take your detailed proposed custody plan, as well as documented research done relative to the move (schools, hospitals, housing).
- Avoid defensiveness: An evaluator may attempt to prod a parent during an interview because he or she wants to see how the parent handles stress. Prepare to answer tough questions by practicing beforehand. For example, if an evaluator prompts you with a question about having a bad temper, wait a beat, and then answer calmly and honestly.
- Don’t promote yourself as perfect: Present a frank, honest picture about your strengths and weaknesses as a parent. A savvy evaluator knows that if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is, and the evaluator may question the sincerity of a parent who tries to sell him or herself as perfect.
Finally, provide the evaluator with a list of people who can validate your statements – also known as “collateral contacts.” This can include coaches, babysitters, neighbors, and teachers. Also, while your goal is to present yourself in the best light possible to the 730 evaluator during the interview, it is best to review any documentation with your attorney before providing it to the evaluator. A copy must also be provided to the other party. A good example of this is the release of outside psychological testing results. Although the results may look good on paper, discuss with your attorney how those results may be used in the future.
What to Expect
During a 730 evaluation interview, the evaluator will question each parent separately about subjects such as parenting practices, the relationship between the parent and child, personal feelings and thoughts, parenting beliefs, work life, and personal relationships.
You will be asked to provide any documentation you have that supports your position, and the evaluator may ask you questions about the documents. So, familiarize yourself with everything you plan to present.
Remember: The Evaluator’s Focus is in the Child’s Best Interest
Preparation is paramount to a positive outcome in a 730 child custody evaluation interview. The more realistic, focused and calm you remain, the more familiar you are with the potential questions, and the more documentation and other supporting evidence you provide, the more likely the evaluation will go smoothly.
Remember, the evaluator’s position is to recommend what is in the child’s best interest. So, if you prepare with a focus on your child’s best interests, then the evaluator will recognize that, and you will be able to assist the evaluator to make a recommendation in the best interest of your child or children.
© Alphonse F. Provinziano, Esq.
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