A divorce case involving children will certainly involve custody negotiations. The court will assess each spouse’s fitness as a parent and strive for a custody arrangement that fits the best interests of the couple’s children. “Legal custody” refers to the power to make major decisions on behalf of the child(ren) for things like medical issues, education, living arrangements, and spiritual upbringing. “Physical custody” refers to a child living with a parent. One of the most common methods the California courts use to determine the best interests of the children in a custody case is a 730 evaluation. Depending on the evaluation’s findings, a parent may secure sole physical and legal custody or the court will determine an appropriate division of custody rights between the parents.
Under California Evidence Code Section 730, the court can order an examination of the parents in a custody case. A 730 evaluation is a close assessment of the family, the children’s relationships with their parents and other family members, living arrangements, and a series of professional evaluations. The judge hearing the case will typically turn to mental health professionals to determine the best interests of the children in the case, and the court may call on an evaluator to testify in court proceedings.
Code 730 allows a judge to order one or more experts to investigate and evaluate a family in a custody case. Either parent in a divorce case may request an evaluation, or the judge may assign an approved evaluator to the case. Evaluators must meet yearly training and certification update requirements to remain in good standing. Most evaluators hold master’s degrees in various mental health disciplines and extensive work history in family law. They have a legal obligation to remain impartial during their evaluations, and they act as professional experts rather than mediators or negotiators. The ultimate goal for any 730 evaluator is to determine the best interests of the children involved in a custody case.
What to Expect from a 730 Evaluation
Parents preparing for a 730 evaluation should have some idea what to expect from the process. The evaluator will inform the parents about the limits of their confidentiality and what type of information they must disclose. Evaluators cannot vary the quality of the services they provide based on fees, and the court generally determines appropriate fees for an investigation. A 730 evaluation is much more formal and comprehensive than a typical child custody investigation. Evaluators will research the family’s medical and mental health histories, consult with past experts who have provided services or support to the family, and conduct on-site investigations of the children’s living arrangements. An evaluator will also investigate any history of substance abuse, child abuse, neglect, and domestic violence and conduct one-on-one interviews with members of the family, friends and colleagues of the parents.
An evaluator may also refer the family to a trained psychologist if the evaluator deems a mental health assessment necessary. A typical 730 evaluation can take up to three months to complete. Once finished, the evaluator will provide the judge hearing the custody case a professional report based on his or her findings. The evaluator will include subjective recommendations based on his or her observations, and these recommendations carry quite a bit of weight in custody proceedings. Since the judge is unlikely to know the family personally, he or she will rely on the evaluator’s report to determine the best interests of the children involved.
It’s important for any parent expecting a 730 evaluation to remember that the court has a duty to rule in the best interests of the children, not the parents. Their findings and ruling may not be entirely in your favor, but cooperation and respect will help your children transition into their new lifestyle more smoothly.