Requesting a Psychological Evaluation in a Child Custody Case
Generally speaking, it is best for all family members when parents can negotiate a mutually agreeable parenting plan. However, even when parents propose a custody plan to the court, the court has the power to revise that plan based on the best interests of the child. A child’s best interest is the overriding concern when a judge reviews a proposed custody agreement.
Unfortunately, the judge deciding your child’s best interest only has the information presented in court. In some cases, a court may order a child custody evaluation to assist the court in deciding what is in the best interests of the child. Parents may request a psychological evaluation in a child custody case.
Choosing to request a psychological evaluation in a child custody case can be tricky. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages thoroughly with your attorney.
If you request a custody evaluation, you will be evaluated too. The custody evaluator will not limit the investigation to your child’s other parent. Therefore, you must be ready for what could be an intrusive investigation into your parenting skills and abilities if you request a psychological evaluation.
Court Appointed Child Custody Evaluators
Under California Evidence Code §730, the court may appoint a custody evaluator. The law provides that a court may, upon its own motion or the motion of any party, appoint one or more experts in the case. The expert investigates and reports the findings of the investigation to the court.
Also, judges have the authority to appoint a custody evaluator under California Family Code §3111 in cases involving contested custody or visitation rights. The custody evaluator acts as a neutral fact-finder. The evaluator generally issues a report for the judge with recommendations regarding custody arrangements that benefit the child’s best interests.
A psychological evaluation in a child custody case is typically referred to as a 730 Evaluation.
What is Involved in a 730 Evaluation?
A 730 Evaluation is used in contested custody matters or matters that impact the child’s best interest. Examples of cases that might require a 730 Evaluation include modifications of custody arrangements, cases involving child abuse, allegations of substance abuse, or motions to relocate children.
A qualified custody evaluator uses a variety of tools and techniques to conduct the evaluation. Extended question and answer sessions, psychological testing, and investigation are part of the process. The length of the evaluation depends on the circumstances, issues, and parties.
Throughout the process, the evaluator must consider the safety, welfare, and health of the child. The evaluator also must work to minimize any psychological trauma that a child might experience because of the evaluation. In doing so, the evaluation uses age-appropriate explanations to reassure the child during each step of the evaluation.
In addition to evaluating the parents and the child, the custody evaluator uses information and documentation gathered during the investigation. Data collection is an important part of the evaluation. Information the evaluator may collect includes, but is not limited to:
- School records;
- Medical records;
- Police records;
- Interviewing other family members, teachers, and other individuals; and,
- Consulting with other experts on specific issues or aspects of the case.
During the process, the custody evaluator cannot pressure a child to voice preferences or “tattle” on a parent. Also, the evaluator must strive to maintain confidentiality, when possible, between the child and the therapist.
The Eyes and Ears of the Court
As stated above, judges can only use the information presented in court to decide issues related to children. The custody evaluator acts as the eyes and ears of the court.
An evaluator observes how the child and parents interact in a home setting. Through detailed interviews, the evaluator hears from other individuals who have direct knowledge of the child and the parents. Through this intensive investigation, an evaluator can learn much more about the situation than a judge can learn in a courtroom setting.
Custody evaluators can then present the court with a detailed recommendation regarding the issues before the court. The 730 Evaluation report includes details about the parties’ parenting practices, relationships with the child, parenting beliefs, personal relationships, work-life, and personal life. All of this information can give the judge insight into what custody decisions provide the most benefit for the child.
Tips for Preparing for a 730 Evaluation
The thought of having someone poke around in your personal life can make you anxious. Working with an experienced child custody lawyer can help. Your attorney helps you prepare for a 730 Evaluation.
General tips to keep in mind when facing a psychological evaluation in a child custody case include:
- Always be respectful toward the evaluator. This person is not your therapist. Do not vent your frustrations. Remain focused on your child.
- Dress appropriately and be on time for all appointments.
- Do not talk negatively about your child’s other parent. Only refer to legitimate concerns that you can document.
- Provide documentation and evidence of negative parental behavior. Keeping a log of visitations and proof of communication with your child can be helpful.
- Try to avoid being defensive. The evaluator must ask very personal questions during interviews.
- Provide the evaluator with a list of individuals who can verify your statements and allegations. Teachers, doctors, ministers, coaches, and other professionals can be more convincing than friends and family members.
Always work closely with your attorney and discuss all matters with them before bringing those matters to the attention of the evaluator. Your attorney has experience with these matters and is your best source of information during a custody evaluation.