730 California Child Custody Evaluations
A Judge may order or the parties may agree to undergo a custody evaluation called a “730 Evaluation” in cases where the custody issues are more complex, such as:
- – One parent wishing to move away with the child
- – Mental health problems
- – Current or past substance abuse
- – Incidents of domestic violence
- – Allegations of child abuse either physical or sexual in nature
- – Problematic or controversial parenting practices
A custody evaluation is conducted by a qualified mental health professional (psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, etc) who meet certain experience and educational standards. A court may assign an evaluator to the parents or allow the parties/attorneys to choose from a list of evaluators. The court may also recommend certain evaluators based on their expertise in certain subject areas such as child sexual abuse or mental health issues.
An evaluator is a neutral person in a custody evaluation regardless of who orders the evaluation or who pays for the evaluation. There is no patient-therapist relationship created between the evaluator and the parents and therefore nothing is privileged or protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. Anything disclosed or revealed to the evaluator may be then disclosed to the court and used in making a final recommendation.
The appointed evaluator will conduct a detailed investigation and evaluation of the parents and children which may include questionnaires, tests, interviews and in-home observations to enable the evaluator to form an opinion and make a recommendation to the court regarding custody and visitation based on the best interests of the child or children, which takes into consideration the following factors:
- – Parenting ability and capacity of each parent
- – The Relationship between the parents and each parent’s willingness to allow continued contact between the other parent and each child
- – Each parent’s relationship to each child
- – Each parent’s mental health
- – Any evidence of current or prior substance abuse
- – Each child’s mental health.
- – Any evidence of violence or abuse
The evaluation report that is submitted to the court generally follows a similar format and includes many of the same topics and subject areas including a proposed custody and visitation arrangement, procedures on how to deal with future issues that may arise, schedules for any form of reevaluation as deemed necessary, suggested future therapy or parenting classes, and suggestions on dealing with specific issues like abuse or parental alienation. The recommendation from a custody evaluation can significantly impact the court’s final decision on custody and visitation.
Types of Evaluations
There are various types of child custody evaluations ranging from a comprehensive evaluation that addresses a number of complex issues, to a lower cost, less in depth investigation which often addresses only one or two particular issues, to a 3-day Solution Focused/Fast-Track Evaluation.
Full Child Custody Evaluations
Child custody evaluations a full evaluation or limited to a less in depth investigation addressing only one or two particular issues. A full custody evaluation is more complete, but it is also much more costly to the parents due to the length of the evaluation, the extensiveness of the investigation, and in-depth psychological testing for both parents.
These evaluations typically will include:
- – Several interviews with each Parent
- – Several interviews with each Child
- – Observation of a parent’s interaction with each child in the office
- – One or more visits to each Parent’s home
- – Taking extensive family histories
- – Interviews with collateral witnesses such as teachers, therapists, pediatricians, and significant others
- – Psychological testing for each Parent
- – eview of important court documents
After the evaluator has finished the process, he or she will make a recommendation to the court based on the best interests of the child or children. The recommendation from a custody evaluation can significantly impact the court’s final decision on custody and visitation.
Solution Focused or Fast-Track Evaluations
In Los Angeles County, Solution Focused Evaluations (“Fast Track Evaluations”) are the least expensive and least comprehensive child custody evaluations offered to parents with a custody dispute. A court employed mental health professional is appointed to meet with the parents and children at the courthouse on the morning of the parents’ child custody hearing. The entire evaluation is completed in only three to four hours. At this evaluation, the parents may give the evaluator a list of “collaterals” to contact with information regarding the custody dispute. Collaterals are individuals such as teachers, therapists, or other relevant witnesses who, if time permits, the evaluator may speak with in order to make his or her recommendation.
The Solution Focused Evaluation is conducted in the afternoon where the evaluator testifies in court and makes recommendations concerning child custody. After the evaluator has made his or her recommendation, each parent and/or counsel may then cross-examine the evaluator regarding these issues and the recommendation given. The evaluator, however, does not make the final decision regarding child custody. His or her recommendation is taken into consideration by the court and the judge may choose whether or not to use the recommendation before determining the issue of child custody.