Why have a child custody evaluation?

An integral aspect of divorce involves the determination of where the children will live. Also, what portion of their time will be spent with each parent.  Even in the best of circumstances, this decision can be emotion laden. It may  stimulate strong feelings in each parent and in their children.  

In the ideal situation, divorcing parents make these critical decisions themselves, sometimes with the assistance of their attorneys or mediator.  When divorcing parents cannot agree on custody and visitation

The primary purpose of Child Custody Evaluation is to access what are the best psychological interests of the child.  The child’s interest and well being are paramount.  Parents competing for custody, as well as others, may have legitimate concerns. There may be allegations of physical abuse, child sexual abuse, neglect, parental unfitness, or substance abuse, the decision may be turned over to the court for final determination.   When serious concerns have been raised about a parent’s capacity to properly take care of the children, the entire family may be referred for a child custody evaluation.  These referrals are typically made so the court can receive detailed information about the parents and children to help determine the most suitable custody and parenting arrangement.

It is important to understand the evaluation process itself. Want more information?

Click here to schedule a time to talk with Dr. Fitzgerald about child custody evaluations.  

Child Custody Evaluation Steps

Generally, a custody evaluation will include the following steps:

  • Parental history survey
  • Clinical interviews with parent and when appropriate with the children
  • Psychological testing
  • Observation of parental/child interactions
  • Collateral Contact interviews
  • Follow-up interviews

Each of the parents agree to sign a consent form that allows the attorney and court system access to the results of the Child Custody Evaluation to inform the judge making the final custody and visitation decision.

The Custody Evaluator

A properly trained child custody evaluator may be assigned by:

  1. The court
  2. Secured by an attorney
  3. Selected by the family.   

The evaluator acts as an independent expert and will not agree to act as an advocate for either parent.  In this way the evaluator is free to conduct a comprehensive interview that provides the court with an accurate, balanced picture of each family member.  

Both parents and children are part of the custody evaluation process.  Most parents are understandably concerned about having their child undergoing a child custody evaluation.  They may agonize about the stress such a procedure will have on the children.  A trained evaluator will assure the parents that their child is in a safe environment and will be treated with care.  A trainer evaluator will not ask the child what parent they prefer or indicate in any way that the child will be making adult decisions.

Parents during a Custody Evaluation

Some parents are understandably uncertain about which problems should be reported to the examiner.  A general guideline is to distinguish between marital problems and parenting issues and focus on the latter.  Even though one parent may have treated the other poorly or been unfaithful, this does not automatically negate their ability to be a loving, caring and compassionate parent.  However, if the concern is about behavior that directly implicates a parent’s competence or that jeopardizes a child’s safety, it is legitimate and important to bring this to the examiners attention.

Clinical Interviews for a Custody Evaluation

A clinical interview is often conducted with the individual as part of the psychological assessment or testing.  This interview can last any where from 30-60 minutes and includes questions about the individual’s personal and childhood history, recent life experiences, work, school history, and family background.

Collateral interviews are conducted when significant people in the life of the child are needed to substantiate or collaborate what a parent or child is stating.  This may include grandparents and or teachers, or even neighbors. Click here to talk with Dr. Marilyn about custody evaluations. 

Psychological Tests for Custody Evaluations

Psychological assessment is a process of testing that uses a combination of techniques to help arrive at an understanding about a person and their behavior, personality and capabilities.  Psychological assessment is also referred to as a psychological testing, or performing a psychological battery with a person.  Psychological testing is nearly always performed by a licensed psychologist, or a psychological trainee (such as an intern).  Psychologists are the only profession that is expertly trained to perform and interpret psychological tests.

A standardized psychological test is a task or a set of tasks given under standard, set conditions.  

  • It is designed to assess some aspects of a person’s knowledge, skill or personality.  
  • A psychological test provides a scale of measurement for consistent individual differences regarding some psychological concept and serves to line up people according to that concept.  
  • Each person taking the test is accessed in the same way so that the intent is to provide a fair and equitable comparison among test takers.  Psychologists have a choice of many well-standardized and

psychometrically sound tests with which to evaluate an individual.  Psychological assessment in child custody evaluations generally take approximately 4-6 hours per person and may take place in two or more different sessions.

Final Custody Interview

The psychologist generally schedules a final interview with each of the individual primary parties the review the results of the clinical assessments.  This can be helpful for each parent to develop insight into how their behaviors impact the well-being of their children.

Summary of Custody Evaluations

Psychologists seek to take the information gathered from psychological assessment and weave it into a comprehensive and complete picture of the person being tested.  Recommendations are based on all the assessment results including the clinical interview and trained observations.   Psychological assessments are never focused on a single test score or number.  Every person has a range of competencies that can be evaluated through a number of methods.  A psychologist is there to evaluate the competencies as well as the limitations of the person, and report them in in a effective but helpful manner.  Psychological assessment reports will not only note weaknesses found in testing, but also the individual’s strengths.

Meet Dr. Marilyn A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., LLP

Traverse City Michigan child custody evaluations for divorceMarilyn A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D. is a Limited Licensed Psychologist that does child custody evaluations in Traverse City. She has been practicing clinical psychology for over 30 years.  Dr. Fitzgerald had conducted numerous custody evaluations and general psychological assessments; she has provided testimony as an expert witness in the court system. She can be reached at 231-714-0282 ext. 709