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What You Need To Know About 604(b) Evaluations

Updated on
February 12, 2021
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article we will explore What is a 604(b) Evaluation, Who Conducts a 604(b) Evaluation and What Does It Mean to Your Case and we will answer the following questions:

  • What is a 604.10(b) evaluation?
  • What is the Purpose of a 604.10(b) Evaluation?
  • How Does the Court Determine if a 604(b) Evaluation is Appropriate?
  • Who Can Be a 604(b) Evaluator?
  • How Is the Evaluator Chosen?
  • Are There Costs Associated With a 604(b) Evaluation?
  • Who is Responsible for Any Associated Costs?
  • What Happens During a 604(b) Evaluation?
  • How Will I Know the Results of the 604(b)?
  • What Effects Does the Report Have on My Case?
  • What Happens If I Disagree with the Evaluation Results?

One of the biggest issues that a Family Law case can deal with is determining who cares for Minor Children and if a parent is fit for the responsibility of caring for a Minor Child. In a situation where the Judge is having difficulty making this determination or the parties have made serious accusations against each other, the Judge has a few tools at their disposal. Often in a very contentious case over the fitness of a parent the Judge will seek additional information through a professional evaluation to help inform their decision.

What is a 604.10(b) Evaluation?

A 604.10(b) evaluation is a formal evaluation of a family with contested parenting or fitness issues. This is an evaluation that is requested by the Court to provide additional as to the relationship between a parent and their child(ren). Often this process is referred to as a custody evaluation.

What is the Purpose of a 604.10(b) Evaluation?

The purpose of a 604.10(b) evaluation is to assist the Court in determining the fitness of parents and the best interest of the children moving forward. The evaluator will be attempting to provide the Court with additional information as to whether each parent is an appropriate party to care for and have parenting time with the Minor Child. This evaluation will provide a recommendation as to if a parent should have decision making, parenting time, and if any parenting time should be supervised. The goal is to determine if either parent is a risk to the child(ren)’s physical, mental, or emotional health.  

How Does the Court Determine if a 604(b) Evaluation is Appropriate?

The ordering of a 604(b) evaluation is dependent on the facts presented to the Judge. When the Court is presented with facts that indicate that a parent may be a substantial risk to the child the Court may want additional information and analysis to determine the extend and possible impact of that risk. It is most common that the Court seeks this evaluation when a parent has issues with mental illness, alleged abusive tendencies, alleged substance abuse, or general inappropriate parenting behaviors which put the child at unnecessary risk. If the Court suspects these issues may exist, it is within the Judge’s discretion to seek a professional evaluation of the parties’ mental and physical state.

Who Can Be a 604(b) Evaluator?

The Court can appoint any professional personnel to be the evaluator. Generally speaking, the Court will appoint an individual with the necessary professional accreditations to conduct a full mental evaluation of the parties and the children. The most common professional to be appointed as an evaluator is a psychologist.

How Is the Evaluator Chosen?

This individual is appointed is solely at the discretion of the Judge. The Judge may take recommendations from the parties into their consideration, but they do not need to appoint a professional recommended by the parties. The evaluator is supposed to be completely independent of either party and neutral in the matter. They are the Court’s witness and so neutrality is required.

Are There Costs Associated With a 604(b) Evaluation?

Yes. The evaluator is a highly trained professional that is appointed by the Court. Unless the evaluator is somehow employed by the Court, they will need to be paid for their services. In most cases the total cost of a complete evaluation is over $20,000.00.

Who is Responsible for Any Associated Costs?

The Judge will assign the costs of this evaluation between the parties. The judge will generally allocate the costs associated between the parties in accordance with the respective incomes of the parties but can choose to divide the costs evenly or assign the entire burden to one party. This is again at the sole discretion of the judge and can be subject to redistribution at the time of the final judgment.

What Happens During a 604(b) Evaluation?

During the Professional’s evaluation, they will have full discretion on the scope and manner of the process. It is common for the appointed evaluator to conducts multiple interviews/evaluations with both parties and all children. The interviews are generally conducted with each person individually and then with each parent and the children together in joint sessions. The evaluator may also conduct interviews with other friends and family members to discuss the adults parenting and interactions with the Minor Child(ren). The evaluator also can require each person to provide responses to questionnaires and tests. Ultimately, the entire process is tailored to what the appointed professional thinks is most appropriate to evaluate the parties to respond to the Court’s concerns.

How Will I Know the Results of the 604(b)?

Upon concluding the evaluation, the professional will provide a written report for the benefit of the Court. The report will also be sent to the parties for their review. The report will highlight the professional’s recommendations and the basis for their determination.

What Effects Does the Report Have on My Case?

The report has a substantial effect on the case. The report is heavily relied on by the Court in making the final determinations as they relate to parenting time and decision making. The report is not a final order but is a very strong piece of evidence for the Court to consider in rendering a final decision.

What Happens If I Disagree with the Evaluation Results?

If you disagree with the evaluator’s report, you have the ability to request a 604.10(c) evaluation. This evaluation is almost the same as the 604(b) evaluation with one major caveat. That change is that the requesting party is solely responsible for all costs on second evaluation. The 604.10(c) evaluator is meant to be the expert for the party that requested them so the party that requesting this evaluation is allowed to nominate the professional. Should the 604.10(c) evaluation provide a different result than the 604(b) evaluation, it will set up a situation where there are conflicting expert opinions presented to the Court.

The professionals that conduct the 604(b) or 604(c) evaluations are subject to deposition and testifying at trial. In a situation where you have competing expert opinions, it is likely going to be a long litigation process as the Judge will need to determine which opinion carries more authority.


What You Need To Know About 604(b) Evaluations
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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