Child Custody Determined by Psychological Evaluation in San Diego
Family courts will often issue orders for psychologically-based testing and evaluation for the purposes of helping determine which custodial arrangement would be in a child’s best interest.
In these instances, the court may use a child custody evaluator, who may or may not be affiliated with the court, who is qualified to conduct the process.
The Family Court’s Responsibilities in Custody Evaluations
- Keep the child’s health and safety factored in throughout.
- Encourage and maintain court standards of confidentiality.
- Cannot make the child disclose a preference for his or her custody situation.
- Limit premature disclosures of information until all necessary information to reach a conclusion has been located and evaluated.
- Maintain sensitivity toward familial issues such as financial status, religion, race, gender, values, or other orientations.
- Disclose any conflicts of interest that may arise during the proceedings, and suspend the proceedings to allow for a resolution of the conflict before resuming the process.
The Child Custody Evaluator’s Responsibilities During the Evaluation
- Keep the best interests of the child’s health and welfare in consideration.
- Limit the child’s psychological trauma whenever possible.
- Explain, based on the child’s age and ability to understand, the evaluation to him or her. Outline the purpose and goals of the evaluation, placing emphasis on the confidentiality involved in the process.
- Explain the purpose(s) of the evaluation in clear writing that is geared for the comprehension of a general audience.
- Provide a summary about how information is gathered and assessed. Explain the psychological tests that will be conducted and how the results are measured and what conclusions can be drawn from them.
- Disclose any confidentiality limitations or concerns that may exist.
- Provide analysis that is in accordance with the requirements of the court. An explanation as to how the interpretations and findings relate to the child’s need for development, how the child relates with each parent, the quality of environment that each parent can provide, and any feedback that the child expresses concerning the issues the court is managing.
- Review any related past law enforcement or agency records.
- Observe the interactions between the parent and child.
- Interview each parent, separately or together.
- Report the historical parenting arrangement that the child has experienced.
- Report any presence of mental illness, domestic or child abuse, and substance abuse concerns.
- Reach beyond the immediate family for interviews to gather information and observations, such as from siblings, stepparents, etc.
- Consult with another expert if and when information is introduced that is beyond the evaluator’s expertise, or scope of experience, to accurately assess and interpret such findings.
- Report on any aspects of the evaluation that were limited as a result of an inability to access the necessary information, lack of cooperation from relevant persons, or other circumstances.
- Be prepared to make a temporary or interim custody recommendation if necessary.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the role of an evaluation in a divorce proceeding?
Parents are often hesitant to have their child (or themselves) subjected to a psychological examination by a stranger, but it may be necessary. San Diego family courts will generally require an evaluation if it helps them decide what custody arrangement would be in the best interests of the child.
These evaluations become especially important if each parent is making serious allegations regarding the other’s parental fitness. The judge will rely on an evaluator’s examination to answer questions such as “Can the parents successfully coparent together?” and “Will the child be in danger from one or both of the parents?”
The evaluation will be used to help make a custody decision, but it will rarely be the sole determining factor.
What type of tests might be employed?
When evaluating the psychological fitness of a parent, child custody evaluators have a number of options at their disposal:
- The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) is used to identify psychological disorders and to evaluate cognitive functioning.
- The Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMMI-3) is based on 175 true/false questions and helps to ascertain any personality disorders in the respondent.
- The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) presents the respondent with 31 black-and-white drawings of people and is used to gain insight into the respondent’s personality.
- The Bricklin Perceptual Scales (BPS) was designed specifically for custody evaluations. It involves 64 questions directed at the child regarding the parents, and has the child draw pictures of the family and tell a story about the family.
- The Ackerman-Schoedorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody (ASPECT) is a more comprehensive exam, which includes MMPI-2, the TAT, IQ testing for both the parents and the child, drawings by the child, and interviews with the parents.
Are all the tests equally well received?
It should be noted that some of the above tests, while still commonly used around the country, have garnered criticism from some psychologists. There is some debate about the efficacy of certain evaluation methods, such as BPS and ASPECT. This is why you should consult with an experienced family law attorney before requesting or agreeing to an evaluation. It’s important to understand the latest thinking regarding the different exams, and only consent to those that are in the best interests of your child and your case.
When should I request a psychological evaluation?
In an ideal divorce, both parents would be working towards the same goal: whatever is in the best interests of their child. Of course, most divorces are not ideal. Sometimes, a parent will request a custody evaluation because he or she has reason to fear that the other parent is unfit to have custody of the child. When there is evidence of psychological instability or mental illness in a parent, that could present a danger to the child. In such instances, an evaluation might be a necessary part of proving the danger to the court.
The evaluation should not be used as a tool to get an edge in custody negotiations, because that often backfires.
Being involved in a child-custody-related conflict can give you stress and confusion about which course of action to pursue. Since 1981, the legal team at Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. has been providing the best representation for clients throughout San Diego, La Jolla, and Del Mar. San Diego Magazine named the firm a "Top Lawyer." For an attorney who will strive to protect the future of your children and your family, make the call to (858) 458-9500.