In this article, we will discuss the issue of private child custody evaluations, sometimes called child custody 730 evaluations – the 730 referring to Evidence Code 730 which if one of the statutes that authorizes the court to appoint an evaluator as the court’s expert in a case.
Anytime there is a contested California child custody or visitation case, the court has the option of appointing a forensic child custody evaluator to conduct a psychological evaluation of the parents, the children and help the court determine what is in the children’s best interest. Evaluators do not make orders. They make recommendations and the family court has the option to adopt the recommendations, in whole or in part, or reject them. In Family Court, these evaluators are forensic psychologist who are on a court approved list and experienced Orange County divorce attorneys have this list to share and go over with you.
Evaluations are conducted consistent with California Family Code 3117 and involve psychological testing of the parents, the children and typically extended question and answer sessions as well as investigation of the issues. These evaluations can go on for as long as 90 days to six months depending on the extent of the issues involved in the child custody case.
Our O.C. divorce attorneys will help you take a look at what these child custody evaluations, typically called Family Code 730 evaluations, involve and what an experienced attorneys can do to help you make the best decisions for your evaluation.
The first decision is which evaluator he or she will choose. This isn’t always an easy decision and often depends on the actual issues in the custody case. Although most attorneys won’t admit it, evaluators do have reputations that precede them. Some have reputations of being objective while others are known to have particular biases, depending on the facts or the issues that are presented in the custody case. Whether or not these biases are real or imagined, some lawyers do not feel comfortable using certain evaluators based on their own experience with the evaluator or what they have heard about a particular one.
The second issue that an experienced divorce attorney must look at is whether or not he or she will agree to have the evaluator’s report admitted into evidence before seeing it. This is a two-fold issue. First, if the attorney does not agree to admit it in advance, the report won’t be admissible without testimony from the evaluator. That means the evaluator has to be subpoenaed.
That can get expensive. Most evaluators charge thousands of dollars to testify. If the expense is avoided and there is an agreement to let the report into evidence, it means the family law judge gets to see it and rely on it without the evaluator being questioned. This can lead to problems if the evaluator’s report is not favorable to your client.
The last issue that you must determine is the scope of the evaluation. Family law judges sometimes send limited issues to evaluation. For example, in a child custody case, the only issue the judge may want more information about is one of parental alienation. If so, the judge will send the case to an evaluator just on that issue. Whether a judge chooses a full evaluation of all the custody issues or select ones depends, in part, on the advocacy of the attorneys If a mother and father do not agree on many custody issues, a full evaluation is best. If select issues are serious and the reasons for contention between the parents, good attorneys know they should ask for a limited evaluation to save time, money and focus the evaluator on what really matters.
You may wonder what the answers are to these three issues – what evaluators are the better ones? Should a report be agreed upon as admissible from the outset or not? Should the evaluation be limited in scope or cover all of the custody issues? Your case is unique to you. Its facts are not like every other set of facts and every other custody case. While there may be similarities, it is critical that a cookie-cutter approach not be taken to your individual child custody case.
The best way to get answers to these questions is to consult with our Orange County divorce attorneys. It’s the first step to the right road on your custody case.
Contact us for a consultation. We are ready to help you and your children.