When divorce cases and matters of child custody reach the courtroom, it’s a distressing time for families, often exacerbating mental health issues that may already exist, like anxiety and depression. With the best interests of the child always the top priority in child custody cases, it isn’t uncommon for an involved party to request a psychological evaluation for one parent, or even for both parents. An evaluation of a parent’s mental state may be a necessary part of the required thoroughness in investigating these cases since a child’s future depends on the resulting decisions.
Before you go before the court in a California family law case, it helps to understand what a psychological evaluation is, who can request one, and what the results might mean for your case.
What is a Psychological Evaluation?
A psychological evaluation— or 730-Evaluation in California law—is a court-ordered psychological test to reveal key insights into a person’s personality, character, and dynamics within the family. Only qualified mental health professionals may conduct these evaluations, including the following:
- A psychiatrist
- A psychologist
- Qualified social workers
Most psychological evaluations require the person under evaluation to answer questions about themself during an interview and on a questionnaire. They’re encouraged to share their worries and concerns. Often the evaluation includes some activities to highlight how the brain works, such as Rorschach Test (ink-blot test) ASPECT test (A scale-based test for parental custody) The MMPI-2 test (a personality inventory measurement), or the BPS (Bricklin Perceptual Scales) test. There may also be medical questions about health conditions and medications as well as questions about substance abuse or a history of addiction. Finally, most mental health professionals will ask about anger, emotional health, relationship issues, and any history of trauma.
What Happens With the Results of a Psychological Evaluation?
After the conclusion of the evaluation, the mental health professional releases a report to the judge as well as to both parties in the case. The judge examines the report and uses it as a factor when making a custody decision. It’s important to note that a report with some negative information doesn’t mean that parent loses custody or visitation rights. It’s just one of many tools the judge uses to make a final conclusion.
Many people struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder that are well-controlled with medication. Parents can remain effective, nurturing caregivers to their children even with a variety of mental health conditions.
Some conditions, such as schizophrenia, paranoia, and borderline personality disorder, that may involve unpredictability and/or distortion of reality may have a greater impact on custody decisions than depression or anxiety.
In some cases, a judge may ask a parent to provide information about their current treatment plan for a mental health disorder.
Who Can Order a Psychological Evaluation in California Family Law Cases?
A psychologist is an impartial third party in a custody case, making their assessment of situations particularly helpful for judges who need to review the circumstances clearly, without the haze of emotion that’s natural from the concerned parents.
When the mental health of one or both parents comes into question in a California family court case, one of the following parties can request a psychological evaluation:
- The judge
- Either parent in a custody case
- A mediator
While the California family court holds compassion for parents struggling with mental illnesses, their ultimate priority is the safety and well-being of the child in a custody case. Decisions of child custody require a delicate balance between both factors. Ultimately, if a parent’s mental illness makes caring for children difficult or unsafe for the child, the court will take that information into consideration in their decision-making.