child-custody disputes

Forensic psychologists are important advisors to the lawyers,  mediators, and judges in child custody disputes. Unfortunately, messy  child-custody disputes are an all-too-common occurrence when parents  divorce. In some especially difficult cases, one parent may make an  allegation against the other, and sometimes these allegations are made  primarily to gain the support of the courts.

As impartial evaluators, forensic psychologists provide psychological  assessments with a focus on parenting. The psychologist informs the  fact-finder (usually the judge). Because parenting evaluations are  supposed to be impartial by nature, they cannot involve themselves  directly in the child-custody hearings. In other words, the forensic  psychologist cannot approach the evaluation with any investment in the  outcome of the case.

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In the case of child abuse and/or neglect, the state must often  intervene to provide a safe environment for the child until they can  either be safely reunited with their parents or they are placed in a  safe living environment. In these cases, forensic psychologists can  offer thorough evaluations to help identify risk factors for child  mistreatment, as well as ways to ameliorate risk.

Parenting evaluations consist of four major components:

1. Interview: Whenever possible, the psychologist must obtain personal history from the person being evaluated.

2. Record review (or review of “discovery”): The  psychologist can receive records from a number of parties to the case  and can use prior findings to help formulate a case.

3. Collateral consultation: Is the parent involved  with a counselor or a parenting agency? If so, it is usually helpful to  conduct a collateral interview with that service provider to ascertain  the parent’s progress in treatment and what further treatments might be  necessary.

4. Psychological testing: Testing is used to help  determine if there are underlying risk factors (such as mental illness  or low IQ) that might be contributing to the risk to the child.

In all evaluations, the “best interest” of the child is the chief  criterion for the judge. A best interest determination can be  strengthened with a solid psychological evaluation of a parent.

 

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