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The 730 Child Custody Evaluation

Child Custody and the Courts in California

Jessica St. Clair, MS, MFT

After months of negotiation and struggle, you and your ex-spouse are not able to solve the custody issues resulting from your divorce. A 730 evaluation is being suggested by either your attorney, a therapist or a friend. Exactly what is a 730 evaluation and what can you expect during the process and afterwards? We'll address the first part of this question in this article and the other parts in the next two articles.

The 730 evaluation is a study of the family, it's members and their relationship with the intent of restructuring parental rights and responsibilities concerning their children. It is requested by the parents or ordered by a judge when parties cannot decide on the best custody arrangements for their child. One cannot simply go to court and present an individual side of the argument in hopes of a ruling in one spouse's favor. There must be evidence to support a position and a judge, not knowing the family, will depend on the opinion of a mental health professional to describe the parties involved and the nature of their interaction. The evaluation usually includes a recommendation for what would be "in the best interests of the children" and the court is inclined to accept that opinion. The evaluator can be called into court to testify, either to defend or explain the recommendations and sometimes, be ordered to conduct further study into the matter.

Evidence code 730 states:

When it appears to the court, at any time before or during the trial of an action, that expert is or may be required by the court or a party to the action, the court on its own motion or on motion of any party may appoint one or more experts to investigate, to render a report as may be ordered by the court, and to testify as an expert at the trial of the action relative to the fact or matter as to which the expert evidence is or may be required. The court may fix the compensation for these services, if any, rendered by any person appointed under this section, in addition to any service as a witness, at the amount that seems reasonable to the court. Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a person to perform any act for which a license is required unless the person holds the appropriate license to lawfully perform the act.

Qualified persons to conduct the evaluation include a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a psychologist. If there is any psychological testing to be done, and there usually is, the professional must be qualified to administer and interpret the test. (Thoughts on the nature and controversy surrounding testing follows in the next article).

So, lets say that you and your ex-spouse decide that you want an evaluation. Your attorneys suggest a few names as possible evaluators. You should know that the court requires evaluators to complete a comprehensive training course and yearly updates to be considered for inclusion on a list of approved evaluators. If you both can't agree on an evaluator that you think will be fair and impartial, the judge will order you to one on the approved list.

Now what? Guidelines for conducting the evaluation have been developed by many national, state and local organizations creating rules related to the performance of custody evaluations. For a listing of these organizations and a copy of the American Psychological Association "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings" please contact JESSICA ST. CLAIR, MS, MFT, at 714 568-1111 or at stclair5681111@gmail.com.

For the purposes of this article, the following is compiled, in part from those guidelines. They would apply to any mental health professional conducing the evaluation. It is suggested that you obtain the text of any guidelines before you begin your evaluation.

The Child's Best Interest is paramount.

  • The evaluator must function as professional expert - that means not as a therapist or mediator
  • The evaluator must be neutral at all times. The focus of the evaluation is on parenting capacity and the psychological and developmental needs of the child and the resulting fit.
  • The participants are to be informed about the limits of confidentiality and disclosure of information.
  • Data gathering includes clinical interviews, observations and psychological assessments.
  • One-sided evaluations concerning persons not seen are unethical
  • Quality of service must not be dictated by fees.
  • Evaluators are to avoid communications with only one attorney or the court on substantive issues.
  • It is expected that evaluator will possess at least a master's degree in a mental health field and have considerable training and understanding of families , issues of divorce, and child development and the court.

» Preparing yourself for the evaluation

Jessica St. Clair | 714-568-1111 | stclair5681111@gmail.com
Jessica St. Clair, MS, MFT, is a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor with over thirty years experience working with families and children. She is a therapist, credentialed teacher and qualified child custody evaluator. Jessica has worked with hundreds of families to prepare them for custody evaluations as ordered by the Court. Jessica is a woman of great empathy and has helped many children cope with the turmoil divorce creates in their lives. Jessica practices in Newport Beach and Santa Ana, Ca. She is the leader of Planet Divorce and Parenting Wizards, both joint projects of Divorce Wizards, Inc. and Newport Beach Family and Psychological Services.

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