AS I mentioned in my previous post [What to Expect: The Divorce Hearing], I've done some searches around the interwebs and haven't seen a whole lot of 'what to expect' for divorcees and court. So I'm writing walk-throughs [the gamers among us know what I mean *wink wink*] of different situations. These are as I experienced them, so your mileage may vary. But in general most of this should be more or less the same.
I don't know how many of the ladies here have had to participate in a 730 Custody Evaluation (Eval for short), so let me give you an idea of why the court may tell you to undergo one. Parental competence is a major issue as are allegations of abuse or neglect. The particulars of a 730 Evaluation are usually sealed by the court so I can't and won't get in depth into that aspect of my experience. If abuse allegations are the reason, you may find that your Evaluation will be sealed as well including any related court hearings.
In most cases, both parties to the divorce have to split the cost of the Eval. Ours ran around $3500 and 25% of that had to be paid up front by both parties. We were given a signed order by the court and the court contacted the office of the forensic psychologist who was authorized to do such evaluations on the court's behalf. There were only 2 such psychologists in the area allowed to do such evaluations, so the options were very small. In my case, my ex had taken my child to one of the psychologists without permission.
This threw our case into a lot of different issues, but the pertinent detail is that the prior contact was considered to 'taint' the office of that psychologist. So in my case we were really down to only one option. If you find yourself in similar straights you will need to ask about such 'taint' being applicable. A competent attorney should be able to throw out any Evaluator if they have only spoken to one party in the divorce [your STBX]. This also means that YOU should not take your child to a psychologist without speaking to your attorney first because this sword can cut both ways.
The Evaluator's office called and said they had 2 or 3 different appointment times that I, my new partner, and my child could take. Because I was flying in from out of state, I had to be able to do my entire half of the evaluation in one go. If I had lived in the state the Evaluation was ordered by, I could have gone over a period of appointments and done the work in smaller bites. As it was, I had to be prepared for an 8 hour day. My new partner had to do a 4-5 hour day.
The child or children will be interviewed by the doctor. I chose a date that coincided with a required visitation period with my ex to save on air fair. It also coincided with a school holiday, so i tried to avoid any undue disruption to my child's schedule. In order to reserve the date of the appointment, I had to pay $200 as a downpayment. That was counted towards my share of the $3500 and a receipt was provided.
The secretary informed me that I needed to fill out paperwork she would send, provide photos of my child's room, our neighborhood, and the front of my home. I was told to bring any statements and documentation I wanted the doctor to review as part of his Evaluation. I would note at this juncture that if you get overzealous with paperwork they start charging extra by the hour to read through everything beyond a reasonable amount. I ended up taking about 20 statements from friends and professionals who knew my child [doctors, teachers, her principal]. I also took phone logs, child support logs, and emails between myself and my STBX that seemed pertinent. I did NOT take any originals. Whatever you provide is kept, so only send copies.
Before the evaluation, it was made clear to me by the court and my attorney that at no time could I discuss the particulars of the evaluation with my child. That means, in english, that I couldn't ask questions after their meeting with the doctor nor could I tell her what to say. As a responsible parent, I wouldn't have any way. However, I did feel that a certain amount of explanation is due a six year old who has NO idea what is about to happen.
What I did say was that they were about to meet with a doctor. This was a doctor who only talked and there would be no shots involved. This was a MAJOR concern for my kiddo. So it was necessary to make a big deal about no shots. I then explained that any questions asked were to be considered before being answered. Basically, think before you speak and then give an honest answer with any explanation you feel is necessary. There is no judge in the country who will tell you that telling your child to not lie to the doctor is a bad thing. But be wary of going any further.
When we got to the Evaluator's office, it was in a multiplex of office buildings. The office was a typical doctor type office with a secretary behind the sliding glass windows. We signed in. Shortly after we got there STBX and NEXT arrived. After a few minutes, the secretary asked for any documentation I had brought. I was also to pay the remainder of the first half of my half of the evaluation fee. I got a receipt and was informed that before the evaluation would be released to the court or my attorney, I would have to have finished paying in full. My STBX would also have had to completely payed his share to get the Eval released.
The session started out with a joint interview between myself, my STBX, and the Evaluator. The doctor made it very clear that he was not there to listen to us complain about each other and got pretty testy whenever he thought we were. I will say that I did my level best to stick to the facts of how I was kicked out, etc. Even that was considered 'sniping'. So judge carefully what you choose to say in any joint interview. Save your personal thoughts or facts your ex may dispute for the one-on-one that comes later.
The initial interview included our history as a couple [much of which had been written into the paperwork his office sent me in the mail], the child's living history [who was caretaker when], and any other pertinent details the doctor wanted to discuss jointly [proposed custody arrangement].
We were released and my ex left the office. He lived in the state so had made arrangements to come back on other days to do the testing. NEXT too was required to do the testing and left with him.
My child was then taken back by the doctor. I don't know what was said. I do know the doctor had a play room and a cat that wandered the office. So pains were taken to keep my child at ease.
As I finished one test I would hand it in to the secretary. I then had a period of time where I interacted with my child [we read on the doctor's couch together] while he pretended to be reading in the corner. STBX had the same opportunity.
While they talked, I was given a pile of bubble test sheets and taken to a testing room. I went through 6-7 hours of hand-filled bubble tests including personality, parenting, and co-parenting evaluations. I won't give a lot more detail on that, but I should note that over thinking and over prepping can come back to haunt you.
It is only fair to tell you that the end evaluation did include statements about both myself and my STBX regarding erased answers on the test ["tried to make themselves look better by..."]. This is not to say 'be paranoid' but rather, think carefully BEFORE you fill out the test forms. And above all BE HONEST.
My new partner, myself, STBX, and NEXT all had individual one on one sessions with the doctor. We were asked our past history [past relationships, childhood, past allegations, police interaction, jobs, etc] and then given an opportunity to vent as we saw fit. In fact it was encouraged. I was honest about both my own failings as I saw them and the things I thought made my STBX an unfit primary caretaker.
Most of what I said was honestly represented in the final evaluation, so do make sure to discuss your concerns in detail during any such one on one. However, I think my honesty about my own faults reflected well on me and balanced out what I said about STBX. Because of that, the evaluator said I was one of the most honest people he'd ever evaluated. If you are being evaluated, I cannot stress enough to be as hard on yourself as you are on your STBX when asked. It looks better, is easier to underscore the truth, and will come out eventually when your STBX decides to dish any dirty details as he sees them.
Six hours for my new partner, 8 for myself, and we were finished with our part of the Evaluation. The Eval was stalled due to non-payment in a timely fashion by my STBX as well as the fact that his appointments for finishing his testing were a month after our appointment date.
We did get the evaluation within 90 days of STBX finishing up with his half of the fees. And I am happy to say the evaluator saw through my ex and the abuse allegations were tossed.
This was all conducted in the state of California, so you may go through a different process in another state. However, evaluations are fairly standard so you can minimally expect the interviews and the testing to take about the same time. Cost seems to be fairly standard as well.
I hope this helps give you an idea of what to expect in your Custody Evaluation. Keep your chin up, you'll do fine.