The California Court of Appeals, Fourth Appellate District reversed an order awarding sole custody of a child to the mother. The court ruled in In re Marriage of Adams, Case No. G045920, slip op. (Cal. App. 4th, Oct. 16, 2012), that a court-appointed expert witness displayed bias against the father and in favor of the mother that unduly influenced the remainder of the proceedings.
The parties' son, identified as J., was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, when he was very young. By all accounts J. is a very intelligent child, and both parents care for him very much. The parents have differing views on the best way to care for him, however. When J.'s parents divorced in 2008, they agreed to submit future disputes regarding J. to a licensed mental health professional who would act as a special master. If either parent disagreed with the special master's recommendation, they could petition the court. The parents shared joint custody of J., with a schedule of visitation periods.
A disagreement regarding where J. should attend middle school arose in 2010. The parties eventually agreed to the appointment of David J. Jimenez as an expert witness, pursuant to California Education Code § 730, to conduct psychological evaluations of J. and the parents, in order to make a recommendation as to custody and school enrollment. Jimenez recommended that J. attend school in the Laguna Beach Unified School District, the mother's preference.