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Psychological Evaluations In Child Custody Matters


Trying to maintain a civil relationship with an ex-spouse for the sake of shared child custody is not easy, and some parents find themselves in verbal and legal battles with the other side hoping to gain an advantage over the outcome of the child custody issue. High-conflict parental disputes do not help the child adjust to the changing fabric of his/her household, and are known to leave negative marks on the child’s psyche that persist long after the legal process is over. One way courts seek to resolve contentious child custody matters is to order a custody evaluation in which a psychologist is appointed to assess the family situation and make recommendations on the appropriate timesharing and parental responsibility arrangements. The underlying purpose of this assessment is to determine what the best interests of the child are, and judges tend to give the psychologist’s report a considerable amount of weight in their final decision. Consequently, knowing the evaluation is fair and unbiased is critical for the parents. A recent article in the New York Law Journal, though, is questioning the reliability and validity of the methods used by custody evaluators in reaching their conclusions. Given the stakes, this possibility is concerning. A discussion of what parents should expect during a custody evaluation, and how to assess and challenge a biased or inaccurate report, will follow below.

What to Expect

The psychologists used in these evaluations are typically court-appointed, as a judge is likely to question the objectivity of a mental health expert hired by a party, making this option less attractive. The general procedure for the custody evaluator is to interview the child, teachers, family members, neighbors, and others with knowledge of the parents’ caretaking skills, and of course, the parents themselves. Parents are usually nervous, and for good reason, but need to approach the interaction from a point of cooperation, and refrain from assuming a defensive posture or bad mouthing the other parent. In addition to general questions about the child’s needs, desires, and interests, parents need to respond with a child-first mentality, and be prepared to explain how his/her proposed custody arrangement is better equipped to meet the child’s needs and interests. Further, psychological testing that looks at behavioral tendencies, mental health issues, and psychological functioning are often ordered, and parents should take care to promptly schedule them, regardless of personal opinions about their validity.

Avenues to Challenge the Results

As noted above, these evaluations are supposed to be fair, unbiased, and rely solely on accurate, relevant, and verifiable information. Of course, that result can only happen if the appointed psychologist has the proper background, approach, and perspective. In cases where the objectivity of the psychologist or the validity of his/her results are questioned, it is common to hire an independent mental health expert to evaluate the psychologist’s education and training, as well as the method used to produce his/her conclusions and the recommendations presented to the court. Specifically, a potential challenge of an evaluator’s report will address issues related to the evaluator and/or the evaluation itself. For the evaluator, gaps in knowledge about family law procedure, family law, and current research related to child custody, timesharing, and other pertinent topics could skew the report in an unfair and unreliable manner. In addition, the personal and professional biases of the evaluator against certain behavior or individuals, such as domestic violence and homosexuality, can certainly affect the recommended course of action. Finally, assessing the evaluator’s evaluation methods would include looking at the amount of time allotted to each parent for observation and interview, and if each parent were given the same psychological tests. Any discrepancy could be grounds for asserting bias.

Get Legal Advice

Getting the custody arrangement that best addresses the needs of your child is a priority as a parent, and the attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understand how vital and complicated this issue. Using decades of experience in the family law area, this Fort Lauderdale law firm will work to convince the court to adopt the position that will best serve your family. Contact us for a free consultation.



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