A Los Angeles County divorce case that involves children will often include child custody negotiations. The family law court will review both spouse's fitness as a parent and seek a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child. The common term “legal and physical custody” means a parent has the authority to make all the primary decisions on behalf of their child. This includes major life decisions, such as living arrangement, education, medical issues, and religion.
So, how exactly does a Los Angeles County family law court determine what's in the best interest of a child? One tool is commonly known as a “730 evaluation.” Depending on the conclusion of this evaluation, one parent could be awarded sole physical and legal custody of the child or the judge might decide it's better to divide child custody rights between both parents.
This professional evaluation is typically a close examination of family members, current living situation, and the child's relationship with the parents. Normally, the judge who is responsible for making the final child custody decision will rely on the opinion of mental health professionals to determine the best interests of the child.
In some cases, they may even request the individual evaluator to testify in family court proceedings. Evidence Code 730 gives the judge authority to order experts to investigate and make an evaluation on a family in child custody cases. Either parent involved in a child custody case is allowed to request an evaluation. After such request, a judge will assign someone to conduct the evaluation.
All evaluators are required to meet specific conditions for annual training and actual certification showing they are in good standing. It's not uncommon for these evaluators to have advanced college degrees and to have significant family law work experience. They are considered professional experts and are legally obligated to remain impartial in their final evaluation. In other words, they don't take one parent's side and are not a mediator. They are on the side of the child and their primary duty is to determine the best interests of the child who is involved in a custody case.
Consult with Experienced Family Law Attorneys
If you are planning a divorce and child custody may become an issue, it's in your best interest to consult with a Los Angeles divorce and family law attorney at Furman & Zavatsky LLP. Our experienced lawyers will need to closely examine your situation in order to determine your best legal options moving forward.
The decisions you make today can be life-changing and you need skilled legal representation on your side. Don't make critical life child custody decisions alone. Now that we have covered a general overview of a 730 evaluation above, let's take a much closer look at the details below.
California Evidence Code Section 730 – Child Custody Evaluation
The California Code of Evidence Section 730 is a state law that guides the court's use of expert investigators. Family courts are empowered to employ professional investigators to investigate particular matters as they relate to family law issues. The investigator is employed by the court, not by the litigants, and it is meant for the investigator to be impartial. The investigator's goal is to look into the particular matter set before it and report back to the court in an unbiased manner about its findings. Evidence Code 730 is legally described as follows:
When it appears to the court, either before or during trial, that expert evidence might be required by the court, or parents involved, the court on its own motion can appoint experts to investigate and report back to the court and testify as an expert at the trial as to which evidence may be required.
It should be noted who actually pays for this evaluation. The court could order both parents to divide the cost equally, or decide that one parent pay the entire cost. Typically, one parent's ability to pay for the evaluation is the primary factor in their decision.
What Types of Investigators are Usually Employed?
For family law matters, including child custody issues, the court will often employ the following professionals as investigators:
- Physicians and Psychiatrists;
- Family Therapists;
- Social Workers; and
- Financial Professionals.
While the court is not restricted to this list, the court-appointed investigator often does fall into one of these professional categories. The courts rely heavily on professionals who have greater insight into the physical and psychological well-being of family members, especially children, because this sort of analysis is generally not readily available merely by party testimony.
What is the Nature of the Evaluation?
The prospect of an Evidence Code 730 Evaluation will arise when the court determines that a particular issue in the family law proceeding needs to be further investigated before a ruling is made. The court will employ the investigator, and the investigator will interview the involved parties.
This can include personal interviews, a home visit, interviews with other family members, friends, community members, and professional relations. After the investigator has taken the necessary evidence, they will present their expert opinion to the court. This will inform the court's decision on the matter at hand. The investigator's evaluation is generally filed as a report with the court and is kept confidential. See related: Psychological Testing in Los Angeles Child Custody Cases.
Examples of a California Evidence Code 730 Evaluation
Some examples of when a court may employ an investigator are as follows:
- Child Custody. If child custody is at stake and the court is concerned with the child's mental well-being or with the possibility that either parent may suffer from a mental disorder that will negatively impact the child's well-being, the court may order a 730 evaluation.
- Ongoing Mental Distress. If either party in a divorce proceeding is intentionally inflicting mental distress on the other party, the court may order a professional investigator to determine the existence and scope of such infliction.
- Forensic Accounting. Not all investigations are related to mental health. The court may order a professional investigator, usually an accountant, to investigate a party's finances to determine whether one party is hiding money from the other party or otherwise engaging in fraud or deception. Of course, the investigation is not always due to nefarious conduct. The court may employ a financial professional to evaluate the value of certain assets such as a business or unique asset. A financial accountant is authorized to inspect all financial accounts and assets of a party to a divorce to make such a determination. Courts may pursue this option when there is an allegation of a spouse hiding assets to prevent those assets from being counted in a spousal award or child support award or when an asset is difficult to value.
Challenging the Evaluation
If it becomes apparent that the investigator is directing the court to make a decision that is not favorable to your position, there are methods to challenge the investigator's report. Generally, such a challenge involves calling into question the investigator's impartiality or thoroughness in their investigation.
It is possible that the investigator was biased, or did not fully consider all evidence, or improperly considered irrelevant or improper evidence. If any of these situations exist, a party can bring in its own witness under California Evidence Code Section 733, to testify against the court-appointed investigator. So while the investigator may direct the judge to rule against you, it may be possible to have the testimony and report disregarded.
Contact the Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys at Furman & Zavatsky
If you are going through a divorce or child custody fight, it is important that you have family law attorneys who understand the ins and outs of the California Evidence Code, particularly when it comes to court-appointed investigators. If one parent actively takes steps to damage the other parent's relationship with the child, by denigrating a parent in the presence of the child, it's commonly known as “parental alienation.”
Court-appointed investigators may greatly help or greatly harm your position, so it is important to understand their role and provide counter-evidence if necessary. If you are getting divorced or seeking custody of a child, call our Los Angeles family law firm at 818-528-3471 or contact us online.
Furman & Zavatsky LLP
Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436