In California, a Family Law court judge can order a child custody evaluation, also called a “730 Evaluation,” to assess the mental health and parenting practices of either one or both of the parents. Alternately, the parties involved in a custody action can agree to a 730 Evaluation.
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Child Custody Evaluation
A child custody evaluation (also known as “parenting evaluation”) is a legal process, in which a court-appointed mental health expert, evaluates a family and makes a recommendation to the court for custody, visitation and/or a parenting plan.
The Purpose of a 730 Evaluation
When the best interest of the child is in question, it is likely that a California Judge would request a 730 Evaluation. Custody and visitation orders are often based on the findings of a child custody evaluation, which could be ordered for a number of reasons, including:
- Concerns about child abuse.
- Substance abuse by a parent.
- Parent’s mental health issues.
- One parent wishes to move out of state and the other parent objects.
- Questionable parenting practices that could have a negative impact on a child.
- The parents are unable to agree on the custodial arrangement.
- There are questions about the child’s upbringing.
In California, a child custody evaluation can be conducted by any of the following qualified mental health professionals:
- Qualified social workers
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists
Who Chooses the Evaluator?
In California, either the Family Court Judge selects an evaluator or the Judge can ask that each party submit a list of evaluators, from which the Judge will then choose from. Alternately, the parties can agree on an evaluator and choose one without input from a Judge.
Child Custody Evaluator Requirements
All evaluators must file a declaration stating that they have custody-related training, including training in psychological and developmental needs of children and parent-child relationships, and that they have at least five years of postgraduate experience diagnosing emotional and mental disorders.
The evaluator will compile a report which will be released to all parties involved, including the court. If both parties accept the report, then it is submitted into evidence. If there are disagreements, then either party can rebut the findings. 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.
Challenging the Custody Evaluations
The evaluator’s report can be submitted to the court by agreement. This saves both parties money since 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 that a California Family Law Judge will see the report and can rely on it without the evaluator being questioned. This can lead to problems if the evaluator’s report is not favorable to your client.
To challenge the findings of a child custody evaluation, you will need to have the evaluation reviewed by another mental health professional who will have to testify in court about the points at issue.
California Judge Ruling
While the evaluator does offer input and insight into your child custody case, it is ultimately the Judge that makes the decision. The Judge will look to ensure that the evaluation was executed fairly and whether it passes an evidentiary threshold. The evaluation is only one thing that the Judge considers to determine what is in the best interest of the child.
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