Oftentimes during a contested custody and visitation case, there are many concerns related to the mental health of the parents or the children. In these instances, psychologists can provide a helpful and informative role. There are many different ways in which psychologists can contribute to a custody and visitation case. First, there are different times of evaluations, which involves a psychologist assessing a situation and making a recommendation. There are also different counseling techniques, which don’t provide recommendations but are beneficial to help foster relationships and help with underlying issues. The different forms are discussed in further detail below.
I. Custody Evaluation
Custody evaluations are done by an independent psychologist who has not served in any role with any member of the family. The psychologist uses clinical diagnostic interviews and psychological tests to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each parent. This includes reviewing each parent’s personality, social, emotional, and cognitive development. They also review the developmental needs of the child. The psychologist then makes a recommendation regarding the legal and physical custody of the child. These can be heavily persuasive to a Judge and therefore can be an incredibly powerful tool.
II. Psychological Evaluation
If there are concerns about the mental health of one of the parents (often related to a mental disorder, substance abuse, or behavioral or personality dysfunction), you can request a psychological evaluation. If the Court deems it necessary, there will be a court order that requires that individual to complete a psychological evaluation. Psychological Evaluations asses an individual’s behavior, style of thinking, personality, and emotional capacity to assess and clarify personality strengths and weaknesses. They often lead to a mental health diagnosis and inform a plan for treatment. It is important to note that because of the nature of them, there is not doctor-patient confidentiality.
III. Parental Fitness Evaluation
In extreme circumstances where the welfare of a child is at concern, a Judge may order a parental fitness evaluation. These are used to assess the parenting capacities or liabilities ofone or both of the parents and examine issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse, and family contact. This often involves face to face interviews, psychological testing, direct observations of parent-child interactions, and receives input from collateral sources. The psychologist determines whether the parent is capable of meeting the emotional and physical needs of a child and any needs of the parent in relation to their parenting skills. From there, they can determine the levels of appropriate access a parent should have and whether supervised visitation should be mandated.
IV. Expert Opinion
In some instances, it may be beneficial to receive an expert opinion. Experts are hired by one party to critique the work product or opinion of another professional or bolster the legal case of one parent. They do so by looking at past psychological testing and clinical interviews. Their opinion presents a perspective on a specific matter that is relevant to a custodial issue, such as attachments of young children, needs of children with developmental disabilities, or impacts of visitation transitions with youth with attention deficit disorders.
V. Reunification Therapy
When there is a strained relationship between a child and their parent, whether through limited or refusal of meaningful contact or some other reason, reunification therapy can be a great tool to help re-build the bond. The psychologist in this scenario identifies the stressors that negatively impact the parent-child relationship and develops strategic programs to rebuild communication and trust and eliminate the estrangement.
In psychotherapy, a parent or child receives independent counseling to identify issues of stress, depression, anxiety, or anger. The psychologist will use diagnostic and treatment skills to assess and deal with life changes. Psychotherapists do not make custodial arrangements. Their goal is to deal with the present psychological stress and the emotional strengths and weaknesses of their patient.
VII. Family Therapy
Family therapy explores the social structure unique to an individual family. The influences of beliefs, values, and personalities of each family member affect all family members, and family therapists try to help others understand and learn about each other, as well as how to exist in a more cohesive and beneficial environment.
At Smith | Strong, PLC, we have had many cases were a psychologist has been involved. We can provide recommendations or help request an evaluation from the Court.