Child Custody Determined by Psychological Evaluation in San Diego
Determine What Is in Your Child’s Best Interest
Custody cases can become complicated affairs filled with numerous he-said-she-said claims and combative perspectives. In order to clarify specific issues, 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.
Psychological evaluations in San Diego child custody cases can be conducted on both the child in question and either parent to determine how the court should proceed with custody orders. To ensure your rights are protected throughout these proceedings, you will want to contact Mattis Law, A.P.C. to employ the aid of a skilled San Diego family law attorney. Our legal team can assist with all aspects of your custody case and work with you to protect your relationship with your child. Call us at (858) 328-4400 to discuss your case.
The Family Court’s Responsibilities in Custody Evaluations
Psychological evaluations are designed to provide a deeper insight into the mental health and wellbeing of parent or child so the family law court can determine what is best for the child. This may result in a modification of custody orders and changes in visitation, depending on the findings of the evaluation and how the court interprets them. There are several types of tests and evaluations a court or the other parent may request, and they are generally based on defining the parent’s personality traits and psychological health, as well as how the child relates to either parent.
Both parents may request an evaluation, however, it will come down to the court to decide if one is necessary. Psychological evaluations are often requested when there is a dispute between either parent about custody arrangements or if the court believes that an evaluation will provide useful recommendations about custody arrangements.
In some cases, the court will request an evaluation if they are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of the child. They will work to keep these evaluations confidential and minimize the invasive nature of the tests into both the child’s and parents’ personal lives, with sensitive familial issues such as financial status, religion, race, gender, values, or other orientations. In addition, the tests cannot be conducted to determine which parent the child would like to live with.
However, the evaluations may also 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. Parents can consent to an evaluation as well, however, you should always speak to your attorney before making a decision. Psychological evaluations can be stressful processes and are not always objective. Understanding how to prepare for an evaluation and to conduct yourself during one can significantly impact the results. You will also want to discuss the results with your attorney and point out any instances of bias on part of the evaluator that may have influenced their findings.
The Child Custody Evaluator’s Responsibilities During the Evaluation
When a child custody evaluator’s services are requested by the court, their focus is on keeping the best interests of the child’s health and welfare in consideration throughout the entire process. This means limiting the child’s psychological trauma whenever possible and to explain, based on the child’s age and ability to understand, the evaluation to him or her. They may outline the purpose and goals of the evaluation, while also emphasizing the child’s right to confidentiality.
These testing procedures may vary on a case-by-case basis. However, they generally involve:
- Disclosing any confidentiality limitations or concerns that may exist.
- Reviewing any related past law enforcement or agency records.
- Observing the interactions between the parent and child.
- Interviewing each parent, separately or together.
- Reaching beyond the immediate family for interviews to gather information and observations, such as from siblings, stepparents, etc.
- Consulting 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.
With regards to the court, the evaluator must prepare the results in clear writing that is geared for the comprehension of a general audience along with a summary about how information is gathered and assessed. This report and its conclusion can include an explanation about:
- 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.
- Any feedback that the child expresses concerning the issues the court is managing.
In addition, the evaluator may also:
- Report the historical parenting arrangement that the child has experienced.
- Report any presence of mental illness, domestic abuse or child abuse, and substance abuse concerns.
- 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.
- Provide a temporary or interim custody recommendation if necessary.
Your San Diego child custody attorney and you have a right to review these tests and, if necessary, request a re-evaluation or dismissal of the results if it is determined that they are irrelevant or unsubstantiated.
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 co-parent 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.
The Representation You Need During a San Diego Custody Case
Being involved in a child-custody-related conflict can be stressful and confusing, especially if you are also asked to participate in a psychological evaluation. However, throughout the entire process, you have a right to discuss your case with an experienced San Diego family law attorney. At Mattis Law, A.P.C., our legal team can explain when to request an evaluation, when to consent to one, how to prepare for one, and how to respond to the results. With years of experience, our legal team can provide thorough legal guidance throughout this difficult time and advocate for your best interests in a custody case. For an attorney who will strive to protect the future of your children and your family, make the call to (858) 328-4400.