The scenario: You have been advised by your family law attorney in your contested child custody matter about the need for a “730 Custodial Evaluation.” What does this mean? And more important, what steps should you take beforehand to ensure the most favorable recommendation on your behalf? This article answers these important questions.
A 730 evaluation in a child custody context is a court ordered psychological evaluation that is generally performed by a psychologist but can also be done by a psychiatrist or even a clinical social worker. (Fam. Code §3110.5(c)(1)-(5).) In Orange County, there is a list of approved 730 evaluators the Court generally selects from. Often, the parties stipulate to the evaluator.
A 730 evaluator’s job in a child custody evaluation is to conduct an objective, unbiased evaluation and make informed recommendations to the Family Court consistent with the child or children’s best interest. This process generally includes:
In sum, the 730 evaluator’s assignment is to collect the data, analyze it, and then opine as the Court’s expert witness on the best interests of the child in terms of custody (legal and physical) and timeshare for each parent.
The 730 evaluator will consider each parent’s history of caring for the child, and what the “status quo” has been. The evaluator will also take into consideration any history of child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and psychiatric illness.
The 730 evaluator will then prepare a comprehensive report for the court concerning the best interests of the child/children. In many cases, this report will exceed 50 pages. The 730 evaluation’s focus is whether the parents should share joint legal and physical custody and what the parenting time should be. The report will end with the expert’s conclusions and recommendations. And while a family court is not obligated to follow the expert’s opinions, the Court will give great weight to the report and often will follow the expert’s conclusions and recommendations.
California 730 evaluations are also helpful in child custody cases if there are numerous witnesses and various types of evidence that an evaluator can consider and which may be more difficult to present in a formal hearing, including an actual family law trial.
730 evaluations can take as long as six months to complete. Also, these comprehensive evaluations are pricey – – sometimes exceeding $20-25 thousand dollars. The Court may require the parties to divide the costs; sometimes, the Court orders one party to pay the costs up front, subject to later “reallocation.” Each parent’s ability to pay for it and access to funds is the biggest factor.
Your family law attorney should discuss with you the choice of a 730 evaluator. Your attorney should also prepare you for the process. In my more than 30 years of practice, I often hear from new clients that their prior attorney did not even discuss the 730 process, let alone prepare them for the interview! The conclusions and recommendations of the 730 evaluator are critical to your case. So be prepared!
You should also discuss with your attorney who the third-party collateral references should be and what information they have to offer. The attorney may want to interview these witnesses beforehand.
You should also discuss with your attorney what documentary evidence exits, and what information should be turned over to the 730 evaluator.
I cannot stress this point enough. It is generally a very bad idea to trash the other parent when speaking with the 730 evaluator. Sure, you can generally, when asked by the evaluator, point out flaws in the other parent’s parenting style. But even here be careful, or you may be deemed by the 730 evaluator to be undermining the other parent. This is a huge red flag for the evaluator and the family court.
Keep in mind that the focus of the 730 evaluator is coming up with a custodial plan in the best interests of the child/children. Generally, absent a finding of abuse by a parent, California law deems it to be in the best interests of a child for both parents to share custody and timeshare.
Often a 730 evaluator will ask a parent, “What are the other parent’s strengths?” You should have an answer at the ready. And be very careful not to be seen as biased, angry, and undermining the other parent.
Obviously, you should present well to the 730 evaluator. Consider this interview like a job interview. You are being judged by the evaluator. So, show up timely, even a little early. Dress appropriately. Be organized with your thoughts. If you bring materials to the interview, these things should be organized
The 730 evaluator will likely ask you what you believe is an appropriate custody/parenting plan. This is something you should have spoken about in advance with your attorney. You want to make sure the plan you propose is generally consistent with what the evaluator deems in the best interests of the child/children. Again, if your plan lacks reasonableness, you will be deemed to be undermining the other parent and generally not looking out for the best interests of the child/children.
You should never argue with the custodial evaluator. This is the Court’s expert. Often, the evaluator is well known by the judge and the attorneys, and the evaluator has their respect. If you choose to get on the wrong side of the evaluator you do so at your peril.
Again, the 730 evaluation is not about the merits of your divorce and who is right or wrong. The entire focus of the 730 evaluator is what parenting plan and custodial timeshare is in the best interests of the child. So, this should be your focus as well.
Once the 730 evaluation is complete and the report written, if you are unhappy with the report and conclusions of the expert you can challenge this report. Evidence Code section 733 permits you to retain your own expert to evaluate the report and findings and conclusions of the 730 expert. You can also depose the 730 expert and cross-examine the 730 expert about their findings, conclusions, and recommendations. But keep in mind, the best practice is to get a favorable 730 report from the very beginning.
A 730 evaluator’s job is to conduct an objective evaluation and make informed recommendations to the Family Court about custody and timeshare consistent with the child or children’s best interest. The 730 custodial evaluator is the Family Court’s custody expert. The findings and recommendations of this expert will likely dictate what the judge decides regarding custody and visitation. So, be prepared for this process and make plans in advance for how to get the best possible result.
David Dworakowski is a certified family law specialist and a founding partner at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, a premier family law firm in Irvine. Mr. Dworakowski takes tremendous pride in his work. For over 30 years he has been helping clients achieve outstanding results.
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