Money and time could be wasted when a “730 evaluation” is ordered — but not defined — during child custody proceedings.

What is a “730 evaluation?” It is a common misinterpretation of the law that plagues not just ill-informed parties but also attorneys and judicial officers. In my experience, including a recent argument with opposing counsel at hearing, when people say a “730 evaluation,” they usually mean a child custody evaluation that includes a psychological evaluation of one or both parties.

The problem arises, when a party or an attorney asks the court to order a “730 evaluation,” or stipulate to a “730 evaluation,” and that becomes the extent of the language in the court’s order.

Evidence Code 730, where the phrase “730 evaluation” presumably comes from, provides only that the court has the inherent authority to appoint an expert to conduct an evaluation on its behalf. It does not clarify what type of evaluation the expert will conduct. The court must not only appoint an expert under evidence code 730, but then also specifically determine the scope of what the expert will evaluate.

The Evidence Code is not specific because it is not intended only for family law purposes. All areas of law, criminal and probate being two prominent examples, use Evidence Code 730 as the general authority to appoint an expert. The court then must refer back to its own code for the specific intent of the evaluation. In Family Court, and particularly in custody proceedings, a court appoints an expert under Evidence Code 730 to conduct a child custody evaluation under Family Code 3110 et. Seq, often specifically ordered to include psychological testing.

I have been asked — by experienced attorneys who should know better — if everyone understands what is intended, then isn’t it just a matter of semantics?

No, it isn’t.

If an evaluator is appointed, the Appellate Courts and Supreme Court have been very clear that the scope of the evaluation must be clearly defined or else the entire “evaluation,” may be invalidated. Since child custody evaluations can often cost $10,000 and up and take six months or more, if the attorneys or the court do not clearly define the scope of the evaluation, that money and time could be wasted. There will be no better clarity for the parties or their children. In cases that involve conflict and complicated issues requiring a child custody evaluation the added delay can be as detrimental to the children as anything else.

It is imperative that when the parties, attorneys and court intend to order a child custody evaluation, with or without psychological testing, that they make the order specific and correct, and not simply a “730 evaluation.” Reference the specific authority from the Family Code, 3110 et seq, to ensure that the procedures and scope of the evaluation are clearly defined.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matt Purcell is a Certified Family Law Specialist and shareholder with FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC, based in Folsom, California. He can be reached at info@foresterpurcell.com or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.

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