Requesting a Psychological Evaluation in Your Child Custody Case
Divorce and custody disputes can bring out the worst in people. It can also be a catalyst for mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It can complicate custody when one parent is struggling with psychological issues that could impact how they care for their child.
In any custody case, courts make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child. One aspect of this is the psychological health of the parents. It is not in the best interest of a child to stay with a parent who is not mentally able to care for them.
Why Request a Psychological Evaluation?
If you have serious concerns about the mental health of your former partner, you can request a psychological evaluation from the court. It is within the judge’s discretion to grant or deny this request. If you do request an evaluation for your former partner, know that there is a high possibility that you will also be evaluated. It is normal for both parents to be tested if the mental health of one is in question.
If you are going through divorce arbitration, a mediator can request an evaluation of one or both parents. A judge can also determine that a court-ordered mental health evaluation is needed if they feel that the situation warrants one.
There are several things that may prompt a judge to request a psychological evaluation of one or both parents. These include drug or alcohol dependency, unreliable or questionable parenting behaviors, previous criminal charges, allegations of child abuse, or a history of mental illness.
In California, a psychological evaluation, whether requested by a party in the case or ordered by the judge, is called a 730 Evaluation. The intent of the assessment is to look into the parenting practices and mental health of the parents.
Evaluators are meant to be unbiased third-parties. They are hired to look at all relevant facts and create a report that highlights mental and psychological issues of the parents and child if there are any. They are often psychologists, psychiatrists, or qualified social workers.
Many California courts have 730 evaluators on staff. If they do not, they probably have a list of several who have completed all necessary training and have registered with the state. In some circumstances, a judge may also be the one to appoint a specific evaluator to a case.
What are the Types of 730 Evaluations?
There are a few different types of evaluations. A full evaluation can take weeks or even months to complete. These typically contain interviews with both parents, interviews with other family members, home visits, and a review of family records like medical and educational. Intense psychological testing may also be conducted.
These are often costly affairs because most evaluators charge by the hour. The court can determine if one or both parents will pay the bill.
An evaluator might also be hired to give a brief assessment, also known as a mini-evaluation. A brief assessment is a faster version of a full evaluation. Interviews may be shorter and with fewer people. Home visits are less frequent and psychological testing is limited. Generally, the evaluator does not collect and conduct an in-depth review of family documents.
Finally, focused-issue evaluations can also be conducted. These are mini-evaluations that only concentrate on one or two issues that are pertinent to the custody case. The process is similar to the brief assessments except that the questions asked and facts looked at only relate to the focus-issue. An example of this is studying how one parent moving out of the country may affect the child.
What Happens with the Results of a Psychological Evaluation?
The evaluator will release their assessment to both parties and the court once they have concluded the evaluation. This usually occurs before the final custody hearing. The judge will use the report to help them make a final decision about custody. The most important parts of the report help the judge determine if either parent could be a risk to the child.
Not all negative psychological evaluation results mean that you will lose custody. The report is simply a tool for the judge to use to determine what is best for the child. It is possible to still be a safe and nurturing parent with mental issues, especially if it is one that is controlled by medication. For example, well-controlled anxiety or depression would likely not mean that a parent would lose custody of their child.