By David L. Duff of Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. posted in Family Law on Friday, December 9, 2016.
Often the custody of children is a highly-emotional, and hotly-contested, issue, when a marriage is being dissolved. In such instances, it is not uncommon for one parent to accuse the other of being mentally unstable; or simply of being unable to properly handle the day-to-day issues involved in the raising of children. The overarching issue in every custody dispute is: “What arrangement would be in the children’s best interests?” In answering this question, it is frequently useful to retain an appropriately-qualified psychologist to conduct what is known as a “Custody Evaluation.”
At the outset, you must understand that the Court does not have the authority to order that a Custody Evaluation be performed; rather, it can only be done if both parents agree to do so. The selected psychologist will conduct several face-to-face interviews with each parent separately, with each child separately (if sufficiently mature), and with each parent interacting with their children. The psychologist will interview physicians and mental health professionals who have treated each parent, and/or a child; teachers for the children; and, friends, neighbors and family members, who have been identified by the parties. The psychologist will invite each party to submit copies of any documents, records, video-tapes, photographs, or similar items for review and appropriate consideration.
Most importantly, the Evaluator will require that each parent undergo a battery of psychological testing that is scientifically geared to reflect personality traits and mental/emotional disorders, that would impact one’s ability to properly parent a child. Such testing would reveal how each parent relates to the multiple stressors associated with raising children.
Completion of a full “Custody Evaluation” generally takes 3-4 months, and will cost $15,000-$20,000. The psychologist will submit a written report, setting forth the results of all action taken in conducting the evaluation; and, will make his or her professional recommendations as to the parameters of a custodial arrangement that would most likely meet the children’s best interests.
While judges are quick to remind custody litigants that they do not delegate their decision-making power to a custody evaluator, as a practical matter, significant weight will be given to the recommendations made by a trained psychologist, who was able to obtain far more background information, and insight, on the two parents, than any judge could hope to obtain at a contested trial.
If you find yourself facing a custody dispute, call the attorneys at The Duff Law Firm for a complimentary 30-minute consultation. (703) 591-7475.