Settlement Focused 730 Child Custody Evaluation
What is a 730 Child Custody Evaluation?
Deriving its’ name from California Evidence Code §730, a “730” is typically where a court, on its own motion or on motion of any party, appoints an expert to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding a highly disputed and contested child custody request. This expert conducts as in-depth study and analysis of the “family, it’s members, and/or it’s prospective members”, and their relationships to, and parenting of the child(ren) involved in the custody dispute. Evaluations will typically also include mental health testing of each parent and any children involved, and interviews of third parties that have knowledge of the parents interaction with the child(ren). The evaluation is carried out, over a three (3) to six (6) month period, with the intent of determining what types of custodial orders and visitation schedule would be in the “child’s best interest”, while also evaluating whether or not certain protections or procedures should be put in place to protect the child’s best interest, both now and in the future.
If the child custody evaluator is appointed by the court, that evaluator will prepare a report; that report is typically permitted to be used as evidence by the court in determining what orders should be made in the child custody dispute. However, if the court does not specifically permit this report to come into evidence over hearsay and foundation objections, the evaluator, most likely, will have to appear to testify as to his findings and to introduce his report into evidence.
There are three ways the 730 evaluation process can be started:
- A judge can order both parties to submit to one.
- One side may request one (said request subject to approval by the judge)
- By stipulation, meaning both parties agree to it.
Selecting an Evaluator:
The evaluator can be a licensed clinical psychologist, licensed psychiatrist, Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor (MFCC), or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
- The judge may chose the evaluator from a list the court maintains
- The judge will ask the parties to submit a list of acceptable evaluators from which he or she will choose
- With the help of the attorneys in the case who know various evaluators and their reputation in the community, the two sides will mutually agree on an evaluator
What is involved when undertaking a forensic child custody evaluation?
The forensic evaluation usually includes psychological testing. This information, together with interviews, court documents, questionnaires and a complete history of the subject of focus are used to describe the personality and characteristics of each parent. Testing results should only be part of the picture of a person, the evaluator must not over interpret the data, rather use personal interviews and consistency of all data to formulate a usable prediction of the parent and his or her ability to meet the needs of the child. Upon completion of forensic assessment it will be reviewed by two licensed mental health professionals whom will sign the document.
One test commonly used is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2). It is a 500 question test; the answers are organized into scales indicating truthfulness, personality characteristics and mental health. Another such test is the Multiaxial Inventory-III, Third Edition (MCMI-III)(2009). These two tests are similar and good rational should be presented to justify using both measures. The Millon is useful in detecting personality disorders. Findings directly correlate to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual used by mental health professionals in describing or diagnosing their clients. There are many other tests that can be used to round out the picture of a person, including the Beck Inventory. This measure determines the degree of depression one might be suffering. Other tests address life style and problem solving methods, flexibility, intellect, bonding and attachment, and even knowledge of children and their developmental stages. Again, all used to determine the best placement for children of divorce.
Testing plays only an important part in a custody evaluation in relation to the subject’s current life situation and along with other information gathered during the evaluation. Personal interviews with friends and colleagues also aid in completing the profile of a person. Rules of inference apply and the evaluator must look to where data is consistent before labeling a person based on a test result generated by computer.
Even though testing is a standardized measure, sometimes the interpretations can be subjective. For example, if you cry in the office over your divorce and later, one of the scales on a test indicates that you have histrionic tendencies, you might find yourself labeled as one who cries easily to get others to feel sorry for you, also, that you are melodramatic and self-centered which may be misinterpreted as reasons to discount your concerns about your child’s welfare. This may be a situational emotional state and far from your normal way of being. Therefore, before selecting an evaluator, be sure to discuss testing. There can be considerable cost involved in a child custody evaluation so ask about the fees and what those fees include. Be sure the tests selected fit your situation and that other data is included in your evaluation if you do not utilize our services.
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The cost for this service generally ranges from $2000 to $6000, depending upon the number of children, procedures utilized, etc. A retainer is required, and services are charged against the retainer of $1600. We work with your budget and since our company assessors are long time psychological assessors they do not have that time within San Diego Superior Court. So we adjust our rate. This includes time spent in office interviews, telephone interviews with collateral contacts, document review, psychological test administration, scoring, or interpretation, home visits, and feedback meetings. Prior to the initial interviews, the following retainer fees are to be advanced to the consultant:
Fees for optional services, including drug or alcohol testing fees, shall be paid by the parent(s) and allocated between them as agreed upon. Please contact Mr. Martin prior to submitting the retainer agreement if optional services will be utilized, so that an appropriate retainer for the optional services can be agreed upon. Any additional fees not covered by the retainer will be billed and must be paid prior to the final consultation/feedback meeting. If a brief written parenting plan is requested, the parents will be notified of the cost for the written plan, which must be paid prior to preparation of the written parenting plan. Appointments or meetings must be canceled 48 hours in advance. Cancellations less than 48 hours in advance will be billed to the person who failed to keep the appointment or meeting. All billing is drawn from trust retainer account. All reserves in retainer account is returned if unused.
CREATE A POTENTIAL COLLATERAL CONTACTS LIST
Please list anyone (collaterals) who might have information that either backs up claims or accusations that you have/are making and/or people that can defend you against accusations that have/are being made against you, and/or anyone who has personal information about your care-giving and parenting. Please note that this is a list of people I may contact. I will select those who are most useful from both parents’ lists after discussion, and I may request additional ones. Please provide the following information for these people:
- Their relationship to you and your child(ren)
- E-mail address
- Daytime phone number
- Evening phone number
- Fax number
- What information you expect them to provide
- Questions you think that I might ask them if I chose to call them directly.
In some cases, I will simply read the written information that each of your collaterals provides me. Please inform your collaterals that in order for their information to be useful, it needs to be related in terms of their direct observation (and written in behavioral terms) of you and your parenting. I may choose to have phone interviews with some collaterals, though they will not be interviewed unless I believe that it is prudent to do so. Please provide me with the list of collaterals and include the following in your list. (Please specify the child or parent for whom the collateral is relevant.)
- Child’s Teachers (for current and last year)
- Child’s Psychotherapists (current and past; say whose)
- Child’s Physicians (current)
- Parent’s Psychotherapists (current and past: say whose)
- Child Care Providers (current and past)
- Family Members (optional)
- Friends (optional)
- Other (specify relationship)
Time Frame: The time frame in which a brief assessment is completed is generally two to six weeks depending upon the wishes of the parties, if parties choose a brief or complete 730 assessment and their availability. Although the process may be completed within two week, coordination of schedules between the parties, their attorneys and the mental health professional can be challenging. All releases of information and records need to be provided upfront to expect a two week time line.
733 Expert Witness – Challenging the 730 Evaluation
What is a 733 expert?
Deriving its’ name from California Evidence Code §733, a 733 expert is typically hired by a party seeking to contest the findings and recommendations of a 730 Child Custody Evaluation. Evidence Code §733 permits any party to produce other expert evidence on the same facts or matters testified to by the 730 expert. Under most circumstances, the 733 expert will not be conducting a second evaluation; he/she will be critiquing the 730 evaluator’s report and illustrating why the court should either (1) disregard the report and its’ recommendations, or (2) give less weight to the report and its’ recommendations. Just as there are processes and procedures for conducting a child custody evaluation, there are processes and procedures for critiquing another mental health professionals work; utilizing an evaluator with significant experience in the area of child custody evaluations will be necessary at this juncture if you intend to be successful.
In addition, the 733 expert, under most circumstances, will not even be providing the court with a second set of recommendations unless the 733 expert’s critique involves a second evaluation of equal, greater, or different scope to the one already conducted. While the manner in which 733 experts critique child custody evaluations may be different, most 733 experts will look to ensure that the following was done in in the initial 730 evaluation:
- The 730 evaluator’s role and the purpose of the evaluation has been defined;
- The 730 evaluator has used a data gathering model that is consistent with current literature and current professional practice;
- Collateral sources have been utilized and historical information has been obtained;
- Scientific reasoning and data interpretation have been used to establish connections between characteristics or conditions assessed and the pertinent functional ability;
- The information provided will assist the court in adjudicating a fact in the case or the ultimate issue.
- The limits of data interpretation have been articulated; and
- Empirical support has been provided for opinions expressed.