Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Child Custody: What is a 730 Evaluation?

Sometimes in divorces involving child custody, the two parents are unable to agree what is in the best interests of their children.  In such cases, the divorce attorneys may recommend that the court order an evaluation to be performed by a specialist, usually a psychologist or marriage and family therapist, but sometimes a psychiatrist, from a list of professionals who have completed specific additional training and been approved by the court.  That expert is the court’s expert, not on the side of either party.
Because this power to make such an order comes from Section 730 of the California Evidence Code this is commonly called a 730 evaluation.
730 evaluations are not always necessary and they are generally expensive and take a relatively long time to complete, so they are generally used only when parents are failing to pro-actively resolve their conflicts and that comes out in parenting issues.
Because of their expense and, sometimes, the randomness of outcome, most people are better off dealing with their issues together rather than rolling the dice on a 730 evaluation. Still, there are times when it can lead to a lessening of conflict and it may be inevitable in move away situations. 

Forensic evaluations can be used in a number of other settings as well, including valuing businesses or real estate. It is extremely common in “move away cases” and a persuasive argument can be made that to allow a parent to relocate with minor children in the absence of such a report (if it is requested) violates the due process rights of the non-moving parent [In re Marriage of McGinnis (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 473, 9 Cal.Rptr. 2d 182]. 

Generally the court appoints an evaluator that has worked with the court before from the court’s approved list of experts and generally because one or both divorce attorneys have requested the 730 evaluation and have worked with the expert in the past.  Often the parties' divorce lawyers will agree upon an evaluator. 

Reliable evaluators are not hired guns for either side. However, like everyone else they can have their own biases. To the extent that you can, it is always a good idea to get as much information as possible about a potential evaluator before a selection is made.
It can be very difficult for a judge to determine the truth of claims between the parties in family law, what their underlying motives are, whether there is some mental health or substance abuse undercurrent, and whether one parent is more likely than the other to foster an ongoing relationship between the other parent and their children. Courts don't have the time or resources to invest in each of their cases and rely on witness declarations or live testimony. Therapists and psychologists are able to spend time interviewing parents and sometimes have them complete psychological testing, they meet children, talk to teachers, visit homes, check with therapists who are seeing family members, and also interview significant others, new spouses, and other children in blended families. A much more reliable picture may emerge than that which comes from the parties' own descriptions of things. 

These custody evaluations can be quite expensive, typically starting at about $3,500. They seem to average between $4,000 and $6,000, but the costs skyrocket with the number of people other than the parents themselves (often called 'collaterals') whose input is required. 

It typically takes at least three months for an expert psychologist or MFT to complete all the necessary interviews and write a detailed report. In my experience the time frame is closer to four months. This report is then submitted to the attorneys and to the Court.
Most courts require this report to be submitted at least 10 days prior to a hearing, so that both sides have ample time to review it. If you are involved in a custody dispute and you or your divorce attorney receives the report late, if you disagree with its recommendations you may want to object that you have not had sufficient time if you want a continuance; otherwise, the Court may adopt the recommendations at that hearing.
In almost all cases where a 730 report has been completed, either side may request that an evidentiary hearing take place with live testimony and the ability to examine and cross-examine witnesses - including the custody evaluator whose recommendations are being considered. Depending upon the urgency of the family's issues and the Court's availability, these hearings may not be set for weeks or months.
In addition, if you feel that the evaluator failed to adequately investigate the case, or did not meet the standards of practice for such evaluations, you may want to consider hiring your own expert under Evidence Code Section 733.  However, the 733 expert is limited to reviewing the 730 report and underlying data and may not re-interview children and witnesses. This can be an expensive way to challenge findings that you do not agree with and the limitations on the 733 evaluators limit their usefulness.

Finally, while the judge in your case must make his or her own decision and support it with evidence, the recommendations of the 730 evaluator are most often adopted by the court.  

Here is a resource from a licensed therapist on how to handle a 730 evaluation

By: Robert R. Beauchamp
Law Office of Robert R Beauchamp
23120 Alicia Pkwy
Second Floor
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Tel:  949-370-8000
Fax: 855-370-8100


  1. I'm getting a divorce, child custody is an issue. The divorce attorneys are talking about a 730 evaluation. What is a 730 evaluation?

  2. It is very informative blog. I read this post and i am fully agree. this post seem to be good. Thanks for posting this great article with us. you are doing great job. Keep it up ans Keep posting. NY custody lawyer