Preparing For a Child Custody Evaluation

 

The parties in many divorce cases initially dispute custody of the children. Fortunately, these disputes are most often resolved through the efforts of counsel and the court by the use of the mediation process.

 

In the remaining cases, the judiciary employs other tools at its disposal to try to move the parties toward settlement. Often this involves the appointment of an Amicus Attorney who reports his or her findings to the Court.  In some of these cases, on its own initiative, or at the request of one or both of the parties, the Court will appoint a psychological professional to conduct an evaluation of the parties and their minor children.

 

Although most judges take the position that a psychological evaluation is not required simply because custody is at issue, in many of these disputes the Court will turn to a psychological professional for assistance in making the most difficult of judicial decisions. The parties, too, have the right to seek the assistance of psychological professionals to enhance their own case for custody.

 

The outcome of the psychological evaluation often leads the way to renewed efforts at settlement. Given the substantial cost of custody litigation, parties facing an adverse recommendation from a psychological professional will usually try to agree on custody terms, rather than face a trial. There remains, however, that small percentage of cases where the parties, either unfazed by the cost of what could be a Pyrrhic victory, or unswerving in their belief of what is “right,” will not be deterred from litigation.  

 

Many family law practitioners simply tell their clients to go to the evaluator and “tell the truth.”  Certainly, you must tell the truth. However, in those cases where psychological professionals are employed, if you are properly prepared, you may be able to exert some influence over the process.

 

Confidentiality and evaluator access to privileged record

 

The first thing you need to know is that court ordered examinations are not confidential.  Therefore, you and your attorney need to deal with the thorny issue of whether to provide the evaluator with releases to talk to doctors, teachers, and prior or current treating therapists. You and your attorney will need to consider carefully whether you wish to waive the doctor/patient or therapist/patient privileges.

 

Failure to execute requested releases might affect the evaluator’s final report and recommendations. However, the impact of this might be less problematic than providing the evaluator with access to records that may reveal, for example, prior suicidal thoughts unknown to anyone outside the doctor/therapist/patient relationship.  Medical treatment or testing for sexually transmitted diseases can also provide a fertile field for exploration by the evaluator and opposing counsel.  You need to be completely candid with your family law attorney, and if there are issues such as these that might come up, contact your lawyer to discuss them before you make the initial appointment with the evaluator.

 

Psychological testing

 

You will likely be given a battery of psychological testing, such as the MMPI-2, the MCMI-II and III, Sentence Completion, Draw a Person, etc. With respect to the MMPI and MCMI tests, do not try to overanalyze the questions. Simply pick the answer that is mostly true or mostly false, as appropriate.  Honesty in these tests is important, because efforts to paint oneself in an overly positive light will be detected and pointed out by the evaluator.

 

The children, too, are often tested, most commonly by the Bricklin Perceptual Scales and the Perception of Relationships Test (PORT). These tests are usually not administered to children under four years of age, and you definitely do not want to try to manipulate the children prior to testing. You can, and should, however, set up appointments between the children and the evaluator with the children’s schedule in mind.  It is not smart to schedule an appointment at a time when the children usually nap, or have just returned from a visit with the other parent. Do not bring sick or tired children to an appointment with an evaluator. 

 

At Slate & Associates, we value our clients’ parenting rights and their relationships with their children. We know how emotionally draining it can be to undergo a child custody evaluation. Let an experienced Child Custody lawyer guide you through this process. Contact us today for a confidential consultation at (713) 574-6355.