Who Is "730" and What Does He Need to Evaluate?

In addition to my blog topics surrounding current events as well certain anecdotes from my practice, I also like to try to break down “legal jargon” for everyday people. When marital dissolutions are filed, 67% of Petitioners are self-represented; by the conclusion of a divorce action, 80% of Petitioners are self-represented. Unfortunately, given the extensive budget cuts that Los Angeles County and the state as a whole have suffered, judges do not always have the time to explain what each and every term that is thrown around in court means.

Not wanting to “seem dumb”, many litigants simply let these phrases get tossed around, or worse yet, they agree to comply with some rule that a Judge orders, even when they have no idea as to what they are agreeing. To combat this, I will frequently distill some of the most common terms into language most will understand. Here, I will tackle the term “730 Evaluator.”

Judges usually only have a finite amount of time to decide a “short cause hearings” (typical motions for some form of temporary relief in family court). When more complex issues arise, many parties predictably engage in a “he said, she said” form of court conflict. Although it is true that judges are tasked with determining which witnesses or parties appear more credible than others, sometimes both sides may seem equally credible (or equally not credible).

In those instances, a judge will often refer to a need for a “730 Evaluator.” This is a term that is actually derived from the California Evidence Code. Section 730 of the Evidence Code states that courts may appoint expert witnesses whenever their testimony or investigation is necessary to help the Court try certain issues of fact.

The most typical 730 Evaluation in the Family Law context is for a professional child custody evaluation, though evaluators may also be appointed to assist the Court in valuing one party’s business, or determining the earning capacity of a party for the purposes of setting child or spousal support awards.

In the context of child visitation and custody, however, when parents fight uncontrollably over what is in their children’s best interests, a judge may appoint a custody evaluator to conduct an evaluation of the parties and children and to make recommendations for an appropriate parenting plan. In Los Angeles County, there is a list of several qualified mental health professionals who are certified by the Court and subsequently placed in the 730 “panel.” However, like most highly qualified individuals, 730 Evaluators are not exactly cheap.

As a result, before a party lets an attorney convince him or her of the “necessity” of having an evaluation, it typically makes more sense to do a cost-benefit analysis. If two parties are arguing over whether Mom should be permitted to take Junior to Chicago with her due to her second husband’ relocation, there isn’t a lot of middle ground; if Dad simply wants longer summer visitation because he no longer feels that alternating weekends are sufficient to see Junior, there’s probably considerably more room to meet in the middle.

The use of an experienced, family law attorney can greatly assist you if you’re considering the value of commissioning a 730 Evaluator. Experienced attorneys have usually dealt with many evaluators on the Court’s panel and they may make recommendations based on their years of experience. Moreover, attorneys can assist in aiding litigants with determining the cost benefit analysis regarding whether a 730 Evaluator is worth the time and expense in each individual’s case.

If you, or someone you know, are in the midst of dissolution proceedings, please contact us to see if we may be of assistance.