If you find yourself preparing for a 730 evaluation, you’re probably filled with a lot of anxiety and worry. I am sorry, I know this is a very stressful time and a very emotionally exhausting experience.
Hang in there. You can do this and you can do it well, you just need to calm yourself down and be thoughtful about what you do and say in your child custody evaluation.
First things first, let's talk about what a 730 child custody evaluation is.
A 730 evaluation is a court ordered review of the parenting practices and behaviors of both parents, with the intent to determine the best custody arrangement for the children. In this process, a licensed therapist (which could be a psychologist, MFT, or social worker) will meet with you and your spouse, separately, and will interview you both about your parenting practices, your parenting beliefs, your relationship with your kids, your work life, your personal life, your thoughts and your feelings. With your permission, the evaluator will also meet with your kids and will talk to other adults, such as your kids' teachers, your babysitter, your boss, and anyone else you'd like, to find evidence to corroborate the information you provide.
The role of the 730 evaluator is to make a recommendation to the family law court about where your kids should live and how you and your spouse will share custody of the kids. The goal of the 730 evaluator is always to make a recommendation in the best interests of the children.
Now, let's talk about how to behave in a 730 child custody evaluation.
I am happy to provide you with my thoughts and ideas about how best to proceed with an evaluation, but before you implement any of these suggestions, please discuss them with your attorney and your therapist. Remember, I am not an attorney and I don't know anything about your case, so you need to chat with your legal team to make sure they give you the personal guidance you need.
1. Treat the evaluator with respect.
The evaluator is a professional, who has gone through years of training, and deserves your respect. I know that you're not excited about this process, that it probably seems a little unfair, and that it's expensive, but the last person you want to vent your frustration on is the evaluator. The evaluator may only see you one time and will base their opinion of you on this one meeting, so don't blow it by being disrespectful.
2. Be on time, dress appropriately, don't be jerky.
How we act says a lot about our feelings and our attitudes. Make sure to arrive to your appointment on time, dressed in clean, professional attire, and be polite. If you arrive late, the evaluator might conclude that if you're ok with being late for the 730 meeting, that you will think nothing of being late to pick up your child from school. Please don't sabotage your evaluation by showing up in dirty jeans, a ripped t-shirt, messy hair, and un-brushed teeth. Again, the evaluator will likely assume that you're trying to present him/her your best image and if what you show is a messy image, the evaluator will really worry. Also, be polite and friendly to the evaluator; they are not your enemy.
3. Realize that the evaluator is NOT your therapist.
Although the evaluator is a therapist, it's really important that you realize the evaluator is NOT your therapist. The evaluator's job is to critically analyze you and your behaviors to make a recommendation to the court about your parenting ability. The evaluator really works for the court, so be mindful of the information you share with the evaluator. I am not saying that you should lie to the evaluator or withhold information, but I do think you should think about how you're coming across. For example, you might be thinking, "God, I hate this process, sometimes I'd rather just move to China then put up with this one more day!" You could say this to your own therapist and your own therapist would understand that it was a fleeting thought. But a court appointed evaluator is going to take this remark very seriously and will be very concerned about it. So choose your words, your expressions, and your stories carefully.
4. Keep it about the kids.
One of the most tempting things to do in a 730 evaluation is to go in and tell the evaluator what a terrible, miserable, horrible person your spouse is and how they're a lousy parent. Don't do this. This makes you look bad and will probably negatively bias the evaluator against you. Instead, talk about the things you do with the kids, why you think those things are important, and what your plans are for the kids when they're in your care. A smart evaluator will be able to compare and contrast your plans with your spouse's plans and if your spouse is a terrible person that will probably come out in the evaluation. However, you can share critical information with the evaluator if there is a police or legal record to support your report. If your spouse has a history of drunk driving, domestic violence, substantiated child abuse, or other criminal activity, then you should mention this to the evaluator.
5. Provide lots of evidence and data.
Since the evaluator is making a recommendation to the court, he must provide evidence to support his recommendation. The more evidence and data you can provide to support your perspective and ideas, the better. Review everything and anything you want to share with the evaluator with your attorney before you have your meeting with the evaluator.
6. Connect the evaluator to others who can support your report.
Be sure to provide the evaluator with a list of people that he can call to learn more about you and your parenting practices. Teachers, babysitters, neighbors, and others who have seen you in a parenting role, but who are not your family members, are especially important. We all assume that your family loves you and will back you up no matter what, so they tend to be viewed as biased sources of information. Your child's teacher is not likely to be as biased, so this is a great person to have the evaluator talk to. Just like with a job interview, before listing anyone as a reference, ask them if they are comfortable being a character reference for you and whether they'd have any concerns providing you a good recommendation. If there is any doubt about someone’s ability to give you a good recommendation, I would not list them as a reference.
7. Share testing results with caution.
If your therapist has done any psychological testing on you, you may want to share these results with the evaluator. Before you decide to share these results, talk to your therapist about any negative aspects of the testing. You may be within normal ranges on all but one scale and depending on what that scale is, you may not want to share the results. Also, when you share things with the evaluator, the information may become part of the court record. I am pretty sure that your testing results will not become public information, but there is a chance that part of the results could be included in the 730 report and that the report can be viewed and obtained by others. Before releasing anything, check with your attorney about how this information might be used in the future.
8. Don't make yourself out to be perfect.
As therapists, we mostly believe in this golden rule: if it looks too good to be true, it's probably not true. So be mindful of this when you go into your evaluation. If you present yourself as the perfect parent, the evaluator is likely to wonder what's really true. A better plan is to go in and be honest about your strengths and your weaknesses, but handle weaknesses the same way you would at a job interview. For example, let's say that your parenting "weakness" is that you're inconsistent with discipline and rules. Don't say, "Yeah, I really don't like rules, so sometimes I just don't make the kids do their homework." Do say, "I am still learning how to be more consistent because I know that kids thrive on schedules and routines."
9. Don't be defensive.
I've heard that some evaluators will try to provoke their subjects because they want to see how they handle stress and being agitated. I think this is a really inappropriate thing to do, but since it might happen to you, I want you to be prepared. If the therapist says something upsetting, like, "So I hear you have a bad temper and your ex-wife is concerned that you discipline your kids too harshly," don't get defensive and start yelling and attacking. Do say, "Hmmn, it's hard for me to understand why she would say that. I love my kids, I would never hurt them." This is just an example, but hopefully it conveys the idea that no matter what allegation is made, you should try to stay calm and explain your honest perspective of the matter.
10. Do your research - pick a good evaluator.
Ideally, your attorney is experienced with 730 evaluations and can guide you towards choosing an evaluator who will be fair and impartial to you. However, some attorneys do not have tremendous experience with these hearings and may not know much about the different evaluators. If this is the case for you, the best thing to do is to go online and review and research different 730 evaluators. The court typically provides you and your attorney a list of approved evaluators. Please research every therapist on the list and share your research with your attorney. Instead of focusing on trying to find the very best one for you, try to come up with a list of the ones you absolutely do not want to see. As you and your spouse must agree on the evaluator, it's likely you won't get the exact evaluator you want, but it's probable that you can get the one you don't want excluded from consideration.
I hope this list will help you prepare for your 730 evaluation interview. Please remember to discuss these ideas with your attorney and therapist before your meeting with the evaluator. I wish you all the best!