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When a Private Family Law Evaluation is Necessary

Family Law Evaluation - Divorce & Child Custody

When a judge hears a divorce or child custody hearing, much of the evidence presented consists of a “he-said, she-said” exchange. This is part of the reason why California family courts require both parties to meet with a mediator before custody is changed, with the mediator making recommendations to the court based upon this meeting. But in some cases, a family court judge needs detailed, impartial information on the behavior and well-being of one or both parents in order to put forth or adjust a child custody agreement.

In order to gather this information, in California a family court judge can order a private evaluation, which can include a few kinds of evaluations. The evaluation is conducted by a mutually agreed upon or court appointed neutral party—usually a psychiatrist, therapist, or social worker—who is tasked with gathering the information needed by the judge in order to make a custody determination.

In California, there are three common types of private family law evaluations.

These evaluations are referred to as 730, 3111, and 3118 evaluations, based upon the Family Code sections each is derived from.

730 Evaluation: 730 evaluations are always conducted by specialists with special expertise in psychological assessment and testing. These evaluations don’t involve a home visit, but instead revolve around in-person interviews with both parents, and may also include other adults heavily involved in the child(ren)’s lives, such as stepparents and grandparents.

A 730 evaluation is ordered when the judge feels that they need an expert’s assessment of a custody situation, often when there are concerns about the behavior of one or both parents. The job of the evaluator is to identify any issues that pose a threat to the safety, welfare, and best interests of the child or children involved. In particular, an evaluator will look for evidence of substance abuse, child abuse, work-related issues, any diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health problems that could pose a threat, or other behaviors or parenting practices that raise concerns.

3111 Evaluation: A judge may order a 3111 evaluation when there is a dispute between parents about custody and visitation arrangements, and a court provided mediation just wouldn’t be thorough enough. In a 3111 evaluation, the evaluator will meet with the child(ren) and both parents, possibly meet with other people involved in the child’s life, review relevant documentation, and conduct home visits. Based upon the interviews and home visit, the evaluator will compile and submit a written report with recommendations for child custody and visitation.

3118 Evaluation: A 3118 evaluation is specifically ordered in cases where there are allegations of sexual abuse committed against the child(ren) by a parent. A 3118 is the most exhaustive of the three types of evaluations described here. In addition to interviews with all relevant family members, as well as a home visit, a 3118 evaluation may involve input from law enforcement, child welfare services, and even Multidisciplinary Child Interview Teams (MDIT). In the case of MDIT, many organizations and resources may be involved, including forensic interviewers, medical experts, law enforcement, and more.

This is not an exhaustive list of the types of evaluations used in family law. In fact, ‘730 evaluation’ is something of a catch-all phrase often used to refer to evaluations based on 3110 through 3118 of the California Family Code. While these evaluations are often referred to as “custody evaluations,” they are not just limited to child custody. For instance, family law evaluations may be ordered in divorce cases when the judge feels the case is particularly complex and needs the insight of mental health practitioner.

In all of the above cases, parents will be liable for the cost of the evaluations. Be prepared—family law evaluations can be very costly, typically running between $4,000 and $6,000, but sometimes costing more in particularly complicated circumstances.  In Sacramento County, the court does not provide more than the basic mediation, so parents are responsible for selecting a private provider of evaluation services.

If you’re involved in a legal case involving a family law evaluation and need legal assistance, the family law attorneys of Toeppen & Grevious can help. You can reach us by calling 916-400-4516, or by sending us a message using our site’s contact form.