In California, Family Court judges can order a child custody evaluation, which may also be referred to as a "730 Evaluation," to look into the mental health and parenting practices of one or both parents. The evaluation usually takes place over a period set forth by the judge or the evaluator, from weeks to, sometimes, months. It will generally consist of psychological testing as well as interviews conducted with all adults involved with the child, including parents, step-parents and sometimes other adults who have significant roles in the child's life. While the judge orders the evaluation, either parent may also make a request for an evaluation.
Child custody evaluations have become quite commonplace in California family courts. Child custody evaluations are most often ordered when the judge has concerns about the best interests of the child. Judges will often base custody and visitation orders on the findings in these evaluations. Typically, an evaluation 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
· Inability to agree on a custodial agreement
· Questions or concerns about the child's upbringing
Of course, there are other reasons you may wish to have an evaluation completed, and if that is the case, you can certainly request one.
In California, a custody evaluation must be conducted by a qualified mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, psychologist, qualified social worker, or marriage and family therapist. Even when a psychologist serves as the evaluator, they may choose to enlist another psychologist to complete the testing, with the evaluator then interpreting the test, since it is a highly-skilled area. The evaluator may either be chosen directly by the judge, or the judge may ask the parties to submit a list of evaluators, which the judge will then choose from.
After the evaluation, the evaluator will write up and submit a report to the judge and the parents' attorneys. The evaluator may be called into court to testify, either to defend or explain the recommendations, and in some cases, can be ordered to conduct further study into the matter. The parties will receive the evaluator's report in enough time to allow them to review it and make any objections.
If you disagree with the evaluator, you may challenge the evaluator's report or even file a motion to have the evaluator removed. In a recent case a father successfully moved to have the evaluator removed. In that case, the evaluator acted in ways to suggest that he was biased against the father. Furthermore, the court found that, through this bias, the evaluator may have negatively influenced the child's view of his father. Because the court then awarded sole legal custody to the mother based, at least in part, on the evaluator's report and on the child's possibly tainted statements, the court ordered the evaluator removed and the court's custody determination reversed.