Q. I have been ordered into a "730 Evaluation" with a Marriage
and Family Therapist. My former wife and I are battling over custody.
For a number of reasons (including the evaluator's behaviors like
interrupting me, raising her eyebrows, smirking and rolling her eyes,
showing up at my house unannounced several times, and arguing), I fear
this person is strongly biased in favor of my ex-wife. The evaluator has
not yet submitted her report.
I want to replace her. My attorney says that it is too late because I originally
agreed to her. What do you think?
Wayne T., Walnut Creek, CA
Wayne - as is often the case when I answer emails from people who find
my website, I need more information to be able to give you suggestions
about your particular circumstances. I am available for second opinion
family law consults at $350/hour. These consults, whether by Skype or
phone, may offer you important benefits (like discreetness so that your
present attorney doesn't get panicked or cranky, fresh objectivity,
and sharing with you a certain practical expertise).
Here is a link to my Second Opinion's information page if this is of interest.
In any event, an October 16, 2012 appellate decision may be of value to
you, and others. The case will be discussed in every mental health professional
ethics course in California for years to come, and is a great template
for what custody evaluators should
In Re Marriage of Adams (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 1543. Because I believe the case is extremely important for custody evaluators
and custody litigants, I've uploaded it and your can read the decision
by clicking the case name, above. The first twenty-four pages of this
36 page decision are devoted to outlining the conduct of the expert involved,
David J. Jimenez, Ph.D., who has been a California psychologist licensed
since 1988. Before reading the appellate decision, I'd never heard
of him - I have no agenda involving Dr. Jimenez, but I am amazed at what
a bully he seems to have been. The father has evidently initiated a complaint
resulting in an as yet unresolved disciplinary proceeding filed by the
Board of Psychology, Department of Consumer Affairs.
It is highly unlikely that Dr. Jimenez will receive any of the remaining
portion of the $42,000 he billed the parents on this case, only a portion
of which he was ever paid - since on remand the trial court is directed
to determine the reasonableness of those fees. Essentially his custody
report was thrown out because of his demonstrated bias in favor of the
mother, but not before the father in this case spent thousands of dollars
in legal fees properly challenging Dr. Jimenez. Interestingly, the mother
whom Dr. Jimenez so clearly favored filed no opposition to father's
"730 Evaluations" and the
Critical Importance of Maintaining Professional Integrity
It is common in custody disputes for one or both parties to believe that
a mental health professional (MHP) can help determine parenting plans
that are in children's best interests for litigants enmeshed in parenting
disputes. Since each parent believes that their points of view are the
correct ones, they tend to assume that the evaluator will issue the recommendations
that the parent wants. This complicates the evaluator's assignment,
since he or she is often being "lobbied" hard by each side.
Judges have the authority, on their own motion, to appoint such experts,
and this often occurs in high conflict cases. Local evaluators are usually
on an approved panel list, and over time these regulars become known to
the judges who come to trust their objectivity, or not. Often the parties
or their attorneys stipulate to an expert on the panel to serve as the
parents' custody evaluator.
Lawyers, judges, and MHPs often refer to these as "730 custody eval's".
Much weight can be given to them by over-worked judges, and an unfavorable
evaluation can have dramatic repercussions for those affected. Some judges
may defer to these experts because, after all, they've likely invested
dozens of hours in interviewing the parents, children, and others who
may never be called to testify. This can be dangerous, since judges generally
are pretty good at evaluating credibility, but the credibility of these
witnesses is instead determined by the expert. Given over-crowded courtrooms,
It's essential to the efficient administration of justice that judges
be able rely upon the neutrality of these professionals. Sometimes this
trust isn't warranted, but it takes eggregious misconduct and a stubborn
litigant or attorney to expose the deficiencies in the evaluator's report.
730 custody evals are authorized by
Evidence Code section 730.
Family Code section 3111 addresses a similar mechanism for obtaining focused investigations for
often high conflict custody battles.
As observed in
In re Marriage of Adams (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 1543, at __:
"Over a century ago, our Supreme Court recognized the need for court-appointed
'disinterested . . . experts who shall review the whole situation
and then give their opinion with their reasons . . . regardless of the
consequences to either litigant.' [Citation omitted]. Section 730
serves this function by authorizing a court to 'appoint a disinterested
expert who serves the purpose of providing the court with an impartial
report.' [Citation omitted]. 'The job of third parties such as
. . . evaluators involves impartiality and neutrality, as does that of
a judge, commissioner or referee ....' [Citation omitted]. In the
area of child custody, judges 'order evaluations to obtain a neutral
mental health professional’s assessment of the family, each parent’s
capacity to parent, and the children’s needs and capabilities.'
Accordingly, these professionals who make sometimes handsome livings reporting
to courts as reliable witnesses have a daunting amount of power and presumed
credibility, and they like every other human may abuse that power, and
save - or possibly ruin - lives. A reading of the decision in this case
leaves the reader with the impression that this evaluator lost his way.
The California Judicial Council has established rules governing how 730
child custody evaluations are to be conducted in Cal. Rules of Court,
If you are dissatisifed with your evaluator, read the rule. I do want
to say that it would be a mistake to conclude that the sorts of abuses
of power as occurred in
are common. But clearly they occur.
It should be obvious that family law bench officers are hugely challenged
in terms of the time they have to invest in ferreting out the truth in
any given case, and that they aren't usually formally trained as family
scientists. Custody battles almost always include "he said, she said"
situations, and often a lot more - including all forms of emotional pathology.
Courts of necessity often must rely upon these professionals to conduct
investigations and to supply information, and to render opinions, that
do in fact often aid positive decision-making. Yet, in order for the system
to work, it is essential that those professionals who hold themselves
out as experts to maintain complete neutrality and personal and professional
integrity. Failing to meet those responsibilities not only abuses the
parties and, potentially, children, it abuses the system. It undermines
our confidence that our government sponsored justice system works.
For MHPs who make a living rendering opinions that they expect that courts
will act upon - with lifelong and life changing consequences, and particularly
within high conflict custody cases, a "God complex" becomes
a seductive and oft times an unrecognized danger. We now have an extremely
well considered appellate decision on the subject. I'll flesh my analysis
of this important case further, in time.