Expert Testimony in Child Custody Cases / by Cassandra Hearn

In custody and divorce cases, both parents work hard to achieve what they believe is best for their children. Many cases resolve when the parents are able to reach an agreement, but parents are not always able to agree. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, there will need to be a contested hearing or trial where both sides present evidence as to what they believe is in the child's best interest and why their particular custody and visitation proposal is best for the child. Expert testimony can sometimes be useful in developing a child custody case. 

 The most common type of expert witness used in child custody cases is what is called a “730 evaluator.”  This refers to the California Evidence Code Section 730, where the court appoints a neutral expert to work directly with the child, directly with the parents, and with any collateral contacts (such as witnesses, law enforcement, medical facilities, child welfare services, etc.).  The 730 evaluator’s work can be expansive, including: conducting interviews, performing testing and observations, researching, and ultimately providing a detailed analysis and recommendation for custody, testimony, and evidence to the court.  

 Mental health professionals can also provide important psychological information about one or both parents. In some cases it may be necessary to have the parents submit to psychological testing to determine their fitness to continue to parent the child. An Evidence Code Section 730 child custody evaluator can perform the psychological evaluation, or a mental health professional can conduct these tests and provide the results to the court as to whether either parent is somehow deficient in parenting skills and what can be done to remedy any deficiencies. 

 Another type of expert witness can be a doctor. This type of expert could be necessary where there are allegations of physical abuse. The doctor can provide evidence about the type of injury and the likely source of injury. There are also child abuse specialists who can provide even more insight as to injuries that likely result from physical abuse.  In San Diego, the leading source for experts in this area are the professionals at Rady Children’s Hospital.

 Expert witnesses are not necessary in every case, and the decision to use one is best made in conjunction with your attorney. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss your custody case and how expert testimony could help you achieve your goals.