Child Custody Evaluations
Child custody evaluations in Orange County are professional assessments conducted by mental health experts to determine what type of custody or parenting plans may be in the best interests of the child. In California, this assessment is sometimes called “730 Evaluation,” referring to the Family Code in the state that covers them.
You or the other parent may request a child custody evaluation, or the family law court may order it on its own accord. The evaluation can vary in terms of their scope, focus, and length. It will conclude with a confidential report from the mental health professional who will also provide their recommendation to the court.
When is a Child Custody Evaluation Required?
A parent may request an evaluation or a family law court may order it if the judge determines that such an assessment will help decide the appropriate parenting arrangement that would be in the child’s best interests. Custody evaluations are often ordered when one or more of the following issues are present in a child custody case in Orange County:
- The child has special needs
- Substance abuse
- Mental illness
- Domestic violence
- Parent wants to relocate with the child out of state
- Doubts on parenting
How does the Court Choose an Evaluator?
The court in Orange County may have a professional evaluator on staff, or it may have maintained a list of child custody evaluators registered in California who have obtained the mandatory training. The evaluator could be a psychologist, psychiatrist, family therapist, marriage therapist, or a clinical social worker.
In many cases, the judge will ask for the parents’ suggestions while choosing an evaluator. Sometimes, the judge may ask one parent to select two or three options, and give the other parent the choice to make a final decision. Your child custody lawyer in Orange County may ask the evaluator about their specialization, techniques, and approaches before you provide your input to the judge. In a few cases, the court may choose the evaluator on its own.
A Full Traditional Evaluation
A comprehensive child custody evaluation may include home visits, interviews with the co-parents and the child, interviews with other individuals related to the family, psychological exams, and documents review (such as medical records and school reports). The evaluator in Orange County will utilize all necessary resources to make an assessment in the specific custody case.
A full child custody evaluation may get completed in a few weeks to a few months. The court will determine which parent should bear the evaluator’s charges, or whether it should be shared by both parents.
Depending on the situation, sometimes a focused or brief evaluation may be ordered, which is less time consuming and more affordable. The details of such a mini evaluation or brief assessment will be determined by the judge, evaluator, parents, and lawyers.
In this type of assessment, the evaluator will conduct short interviews and make brief home visits. Simple psychological tests may be included in the assessment. Detailed review of documents and reviews will be avoided. A focused or specific-issue evaluation may require the evaluator to examine just one aspect of the custody case.
For instance, how the custodial parent’s relocation to another state with the child will impact the child’s best interests. Brief evaluations as well as focused-issue evaluations may take about a few hours to a few weeks to complete.
In certain cases, multiple child custody evaluators may be required. For instance, one subject matter expert may assess an issue such as drug abuse, while another evaluator may be asked to make a general custody recommendation. If one evaluator is not qualified to carry out a psychological test, the court may order a trained psychologist as a second evaluator to perform the test.
During the course of assessment, the evaluator may also consult with other professionals, such as physicians, therapists, and social workers who have worked with the parents or child in the past. In this case, the parents will have to complete a release of information form.
Evaluation of Parental Alienation
Nowadays, child custody evaluators often look out for signs of a behavior known as “parental alienation.” This occurs when one parent manipulates or makes false claims to distort the relationship of the child with the other parent. If parental alienation is determined in a particular case, the evaluator may recommend medical therapy for the parent who indulged in it.
At the same time, the evaluator may recommend that the parenting time of the alienated parent may be gradually increased, or they may even be eventually granted sole custody. If the case involves issues such as child neglect, child abuse, drug abuse, or another major conflict, the evaluator may even recommend that the child should be provided with his or her own legal representative.
If the judge approves, a child counsel will be appointed who will investigate the facts and determine what type of custody and parenting plans would be in the best interests of the child.
What to do if an Evaluation is Ordered?
- • Prepare for the custody evaluation with your divorce lawyer.
- • Get all documents ready, be present on time, and pay serious attention to the evaluator during the interaction.
- • Prioritize your child’s best interests throughout the evaluation.
- • Be honest and respectful, and remember that anything you do or speak can enter into the evaluator’s report.
- • Acknowledge your parental weaknesses when asked.
- • Avoid showing the other parent in bad light.
- • Encourage your child to practice whatever they wish to speak during the evaluation, but do not coach them.
- • Feel free to ask relevant questions from the evaluator.
- • If necessary, arrange for a few letters of support from eminent individuals who know you.
Report of the Evaluator
At the conclusion of the assessment, the child custody evaluator in Orange County will prepare a confidential report, which will include their findings as well as a professional custody recommendation. Only the parties to the case can access this report. The evaluator will share the report with the court as well as with your lawyer at least 10 days prior to the next court hearing.
If you have objections to the findings or recommendations in the report, your attorney will question the evaluator at the trial. You may also use expert testimony during the trial to counter the findings of the report.
If you are unhappy with the evaluator’s performance, your attorney can share your views with the judge during a hearing. A complaint about the licensing or ethical matters may be filed with the California Board of Psychology, Board of Behavioral Sciences, or another relevant board in the state.
Work with a Skilled Child Custody Lawyer
To successfully handle an evaluation, you should work with a diligent child custody attorney in Orange County who understands the custody evaluation process. They will help you navigate the complexities of evaluation, and pursue an effective legal strategy to achieve the desired outcome in your child custody case.