In family law and divorce cases where parents cannot work out a custody arrangement, and in situations where custody is hotly-contested, one option in addition to the testimony of the parents and third party witnesses is what is known in California as a “730 child custody evaluation.” What is a 730 child custody evaluation? Essentially, it is a court-ordered child custody evaluation under California Evidence Code section 730 wherein a private forensic child custody evaluator conducts a detailed psychological evaluation of the parents and interviews with collateral third party witnesses (including teachers, physicians, therapists, family members, friends, etc.) which assists the court in determining the best interests of children with regard to disputed custody and visitation issues. These evaluators are forensic psychologists generally chosen from a list of approved evaluators that each county in California has. Although such evaluations are court-ordered, the court will not order one unless one of the parties have requested one, because such evaluations cost several thousand dollars and must be paid by one or both of the parties. At the conclusion of 730 child custody evaluation, the evaluator prepares a very detailed report with his or her summations of the results of the psychological evaluation and interviews, and then generally provides recommendations regarding the contested custody and visitation issues. Family law judges give considerable weight to the 730 evaluations, but they have the ultimate discretion to adopt some, all, or none of the recommendations. The 730 reports are confidential and cannot be copied, so generally parties have to review them with their family law attorney in their office. Given the seriousness of such evaluations, it is important that parties be prepared for the child custody evaluation ahead of time, which is the job of their family law attorney. Such preparation will help alleviate some of the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty involved in the evaluation process. Here are some tips on how to prepare for a 730 child custody evaluation:
- Know that parties cannot outsmart the psychological testing, so they should not bother trying. It is better to be honest, because the testing can pick up on misrepresentations and defensiveness, etc.
- Nothing is black and white in life. That goes for parenting, which means that one party’s parenting is not all perfect, while the other’s parenting is all bad. So be prepared to provide the evaluator with what you believe the other parent’s faults are, but do not exaggerate those faults. Moreover, be sure to point out what you believe the other parent’s good traits and what that parent does well in parenting. When you find fault in everything that the other parent does, the evaluator is generally going to look to the parent pointing the finger at the other parent with a very skeptical eye.
- To further clarify what you believe that the other parent’s faults are, be specific with actual instances and examples of events that have occurred, rather than state generalities. For instance, if your concern is a lack of supervision or allegations of neglect, be prepared with details of dates of the incidents and what occurred.
- If you are the party facing allegations made by the other party, treat your responses the same way, i.e. with specific facts and details on how the allegations made are false. Be clear, be specific, and be to-to-point.
- Always think about the questions that the evaluator might ask you in terms of what is in the best interests of the children, not what you want. For example, rather than simply stating that the children should be with you because you are the better parent, state the reasons why you really believe that the children are better served with what you are seeking in terms of custody.
- Whenever you refer to the children, always refer to them as “our children, not “my children.” The children have 2 parents, not one.
- At some point during the evaluation, you and your children will meet with the evaluator, where the evaluator will observe the interactions between you and the children. Remain relaxed despite the ackwardness of the situation, and be responsive to what your children are wanting and saying during that time. It’s about them, not you.
- For better or worse, you and the other parent must learn to co-parent the children until they are adults. You do not want to be the parent that is considered to be difficult and unwilling to co-parent. You also do not want to be considered the parent who tries to frustrate the other parent’s relationship with the children. If you have tried to facilitate a good parent-child relationship between the other parent and the children by encouraging it, tell the evaluator how you have done so.
It is highly advisable to talk with your family law attorney prior to the start of the 730 child custody evaluation for further advise. That attorney will likely know the evaluator from prior cases and likely had some hand in the selection of that evaluator in your case, so he or she will have additional advice and information.