In some cases, parents simply can’t come to a child custody agreement on their own. There could be many reasons for this. The parents may simply be too far apart, from a parenting point of view. There could be allegations that a parent is involved in substance abuse. There could be accusations of domestic violence or child abuse.
Negotiation hasn’t worked. Mediation hasn’t worked. Even a court case can be stalled for this reason. When this happens, the parties or the court may ask for a child custody evaluation, which is an analysis of the parents, the child, the situation and the options. Though not always, this is often done by a forensic psychologist.
If you have requested, or a court has ordered, a child custody evaluation, you may be wondering what to expect. The first thing to know is that the forensic psychologist in a custody evaluation is a neutral person who is providing information to the court. They are generally not an expert witness hired by one party. You should fully cooperate with the custody evaluator.
The forensic psychologist will start by interviewing both parents and people who know the family well. This could include teachers, counselors, coaches, childcare providers, clergy, and medical professionals. In many cases, especially when the children involved are very young, the forensic psychologist will not interview the children at all.
The forensic psychologist’s job is to get to the truth, but ultimately the focus must be on the children’s best interest. He or she may ask the parents to undergo psychological testing. His or her goal is to learn about each parent’s mental stability and fitness to be a parent in their children’s best interest.
Once the forensic psychologist has completed all the necessary interviews and received results from any psychological tests, he or she will write a report to be presented to the judge. It will generally contain specific recommendations, but the parties are still encouraged to settle their issues. The report may shed light on some things the parents had been unable to identify or agree upon, and it can itself encourage settlement. If that does not happen, the court will generally take the forensic psychologist’s recommendations very seriously.
If you are in a dispute with your children’s other parent that could lead to litigation, you need a compassionate attorney who will go the extra mile to help you, even if that means bringing in a custody evaluator like a forensic psychologist.