What to do in an Evidence Code Section 730 Child Custody Evaluation
If you are involved in a 730 Evaluation regarding custody of your children, you need to be prepared. This is not a process that you can be careless about. In many cases a Judge will adopt the recommendations of a 730 Evaluator without much debate. This Guide will help you be prepared.
When to choose a 730 evaluationIf you are involved in a custody dispute, and there are reasons why you believe the other parent should have limited contact with the children, but the evidence you have is not admissible in court, a 730 evaluation could be the right procedure for you and for the kids. For instance, if you have people willing to write letters or declarations regarding your situation, but they are not available to testify, this makes their statements inadmissible in court because they are hearsay. However, a 730 Evaluator is not required to follow the rules of evidence, and therefore statements made by people who will not be available to testify in court can be considered. Also, if you have a suspicion that the other parent has mental illness problems that have not been diagnosed, you cannot testify to such things unless you are an expert in that field (eg: a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist). But a 730 Evaluator may test for such problems and take them into account in making recommendations. There are other more limited types of child custody evaluations that can also be done. For instance, some counties have Mediation Departments that will conduct child custody investigations. There can be emergency custody investigations, where you believe the children are in immediate danger. These normally only take a few days. They are limited to investigating whether an actual emergency exists regarding the children. There are partial child custody investigations, where the Judge orders that an investigation be made of certain specific circumstances regarding the children (eg: illegal drug use, neglect, alcohol abuse, etc.). There can also be a Full Child Custody Investigation done by a Mediation Department Investigator where all aspects of the children's lives are looked at and a recommendation made as to what kind of custodial timeshare arrangement is in the best interests of the children. But it is the 730 Evaluation that is the "granddaddy" of all investigations. These are done by private psychologists, psychiatrists or other licensed persons such as LMFT's or LCSW's. And they are the most expensive. Where the emergency, partial and full CCI's done by a Mediation Department can cost between $500 to $2500, a 730 Evaluation usually starts around $7,500 and goes up from there depending on complexity of the case.
What to do when you are involved in a 730 Evaluation.Because some Judge's tend to adopt a 730 Evaluation's recommendations without much reconsideration, it is important that you understand that the Evaluator is thus essentially making a custody order regarding your children (that is not the law, but in reality it could be what happens). Therefore, be on your best behavior with the Evaluator, do not be late to appointments (be early, but not too early), bring with you any documents the Evaluator has asked for, bring with you any documents, pictures or other things that you want the Evaluator to consider. Be prompt in returning any phone calls from them. Believe it or not, all of these things can indicate to the Evaluator whether you are a responsible person or not. If not, that could impact their recommendation. Also, be honest with the Evaluator. They are likely to use psychological testing that could indicate whether you are giving honest answers or not. If you have problems with the other parent don't hesitate to share that with the Evaluator, but be calm and reasonable when talking it. If you appear to be hateful, resentful or wanting revenge against the other parent that just makes you look bad. Follow any suggestions made by the Evaluator, this will show your willingness to put the children first, even above what you think is best. The Evaluator is a 3rd party, and not emotionally invested in your situation, they tend to see things a little more clearly than the parties involved. So even if you don't agree, try and do what the Evaluator has suggested. If there is something of critical importance, and you just can't wrap your head around what the Evaluator is suggesting, talk to your attorney about it. Get someone else's input. I had a case years ago, where the mother thought the father was molesting the children during visits. The Judge cut off visits temporarily, but during a 730 Evaluation, the Evaluator suggested that visits resume, even before the evaluation was complete. The horrified mother came to me and I was able to go back into court and stop any visits pending completion of the evaluation and issuance of the report. Turns out, after a trial in the matter, the Judge determined father was molesting the children. The moral of the story is be reasonable and be willing to accept instruction, but if your gut is telling you your children are in danger, talk to your attorney about it. Also keep in mind that you only get one bite of the apple. You must present everything you have to the Evaluator. Once the report is written, and the recommendations are made, you are unlikely to be able to go back and present more information to the Evaluator. Lastly, keep in mind that if the 730 Report comes out against you, you have the right under California Evidence Code Section 733 to hire your own expert who is able to review what the 730 Evaluator did, and the recommendations, and testify in court as to whether or not the original evaluation was handled properly.