If you’re like most parents who are going through a divorce, your primary concern is your children. You want the best for them, no matter the outcome of your divorce, and the most important decisions you’re making are only in their best interest. But what if you and your ex-spouse don’t see eye-to-eye on child custody?
A judge will order a 730 evaluation, which will directly affect your child custody arrangement during and after your divorce.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is a 730 Evaluation?
A 730 evaluation is an assessment of your family. The court appoints an expert who looks into your (or your ex’s) parenting practices or mental health. You, your ex-spouse or the judge can request a 730 evaluation when your child’s best interests are in question. California Evidence Code Section 730 authorizes these types of evaluations.
When Do You Need a 730 Evaluation?
If you, your ex-spouse or the judge in your case believes that your child’s best interests aren’t being served, the court can order a 730 evaluation. Some things can trigger this type of investigation, including:
- Suspected child abuse
- Concerns about substance abuse
- Alleged mental health problems
- When one parent wants to move out of state and the other parent objects
- Parental disagreement on custody
- Suspected parenting practices that could have a negative effect on the child
Who Conducts a 730 Evaluation?
The court appoints a qualified mental health professional to conduct this type of evaluation. You cannot choose your evaluator specifically, but in some cases, the judge asks the parties to submit a list of possible evaluators. The person the court appoints will be a:
- Social worker
- Marriage and family therapist (but if formal psychological testing is necessary, only a trained psychologist or psychiatrist can perform it)
The evaluator has to remain objective and protect confidentiality throughout the entire process. He or she can’t make recommendations about a party unless that party has been evaluated – and at all times, the evaluator has to keep the best interests of the child in mind. Evaluators cannot pressure children to say which parent they’d rather live with.
Who Pays for a 730 Evaluation?
The court may require both parents to divide the fee for a 730 evaluation (and it doesn’t have to be 50-50), or it can require one party to pay for it.
What Happens During an Evaluation?
During this court-ordered evaluation, the professional assigned to the case will assess the family. He or she will learn about the children’s relationships with their parents and other family members, the kids’ living arrangements, and the parent’s parenting practices. The evaluator’s goal is to determine what’s in the children’s best interests.
The process can take a while to complete. The evaluator can:
- Review documents related to child custody, such as police records
- Observe interaction between the parent and child
- Interview parents together, separately, or both together and separately (but in cases of domestic violence, the parents won’t be interviewed together)
- Interview the children, as well as their stepparents, siblings, and step- and half-siblings
- Observe the children interacting with stepparents, siblings, and step- and half-siblings
- Consult with other experts (such as psychiatrists and psychologists for psychological testing)
All the information the evaluator compiles goes into a file, and it helps the evaluator develop a recommendation for the court.
Generally speaking, evaluators can’t communicate with an attorney for one party without the other’s involvement. However, there are some exceptions, such as when an evaluator needs to schedule an appointment, or to find out whether there’s a potential conflict of interest. The court can authorize communication between the evaluator and a court-appointed attorney for the child, too.
If the evaluator believes a restraining order is necessary to protect the child or one party, he or she can communicate that, as well. Psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers are mandated reporters, too, which means if they suspect or know about child abuse or endangerment, they’re required to report it to the authorities.
What Kinds of Questions Can an Evaluator Ask During an Interview?
During an interview with parents, the evaluator can ask any questions that are relevant to the investigation. He or she might ask questions that help assess:
- Each parent’s ability to set age-appropriate limits for the child
- Each parent’s ability to respond to the child’s needs
- How much each parent has been involved in the child’s life, or has cared for the child, in the past
- How the parents work toward resolutions
- Whether there’s been a history of child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse and psychiatric illness
- Both parents’ psychological and social functioning
What Happens After a 730 Evaluation?
The evaluator reports his or her findings to the court after completing an assessment. He or she must:
- Summarize his or her data-gathering procedures, information sources, and amount of time spent on the investigation
- Present all relevant information, even if the information doesn’t support the conclusion he or she reached
- Describe limitations in the evaluation that stem from an inability to get information, the failure of a party to cooperate, or the circumstances of interviews
- Make custody or visitation recommendations, but only for a party who was involved in the evaluation
- Provide clear and detailed recommendations that are in the child’s best interests
What’s a Mini-Evaluation or Focused-Issue Evaluation?
In some cases, 730 evaluations are abbreviated – that means they’re shorter and only focused on one issue. Sometimes the courts order these types of 730 evaluations to speed up the process.
What if You Disagree With the Findings From Your Evaluation?
If you have a 730 evaluation, the judge makes the final decision on what type of custody arrangement you’ll have – and if you disagree with the findings of the report, you’re entitled to say so. Your attorney can ask the court to have another mental health professional review the evaluation and testify about the results in court.
The best way to avoid a 730 evaluation is to reach a custody agreement with your spouse. If you and your spouse reach an agreement that serves your child’s best interests, the judge won’t have any reason to order this type of evaluation – and you and your ex-spouse maintain control over the outcome of your case.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About a 730 Evaluation?
If you and your ex-spouse can’t reach a reasonable solution for child custody, if you know your spouse isn’t able to provide adequate care for your children, or if your spouse has asked the court for a 730 evaluation on you, we may be able to help you. We’ll also answer all your questions about child custody, child support, spousal support and other divorce matters.