What you should know about child custody – Part Three

Sometimes parents are unable to agree upon what is in the child’s best interest When this happens, the court may order that a child custody investigation take place, otherwise known as a 730 evaluation (because it is pursuant to Evidence Code 730). This means that an evaluator is appointed to the case to evaluate each party and the child’s needs. Once the evaluation is complete, the evaluator will prepare a report making custody recommendations based upon the child’s best interest. Generally, evaluations are ordered when the court needs additional information before making a child custody award.

Evaluations can be beneficial, but they are also expensive and take time to prepare. For example, many evaluators in the Orange County and Los Angeles area request a $7,500 minimum retainer fee and often require at least 3 months to finalize. An evaluation may consist of several interviews with each party and the child. The evaluator may speak to the child’s physician, teachers, tutors, child care provider, close family members, significant others, etc. The evaluation may also include psychological testing and home visits.

In determining the child’s best interest, when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children, Family Code 3020 provides that the court’s primary concerns are the health, safety and welfare of the child. In addition, Family Code 3020 states that it is the public policy of the state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, unless it is not in the children’s best interest to do so.

As previously indicated in this blog, the court may base their order upon an agreement of the parties, or after a contested hearing. Prior to going to court, the parties will have done themselves and their child a great service, if they can talk openly about the child’s needs and a custody arrangement that is beneficial to the child. When discussing the custody arrangement, parties should be honest about the child’s needs and which parent best meets which needs of the child. If the parties are unable to agree initially, then they should plan to discuss the issue again after the 730 report or Minor’s Counsel ‘s statement has been received. A contested hearing, whereby the parties rely on the court to make the right decisions for the family, can be risky and costly. The child will almost always benefit when the parents can work together to make decisions concerning the child.

Janet E. Dockstader, is a partner with Brandmeyer Gilligan & Dockstader, LLP. She has more than a decade of experience negotiating marital settlement agreements and litigating Long Beach family law matters, including property issues, spousal support, child support and child custody.

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