Assignment 2: Custody Evaluation
Forensic professionals are often called upon to provide opinions about custody in cases of divorce, parental termination, and reestablishment of custody after a child has been removed from the custodial parent’s home. Specific ethical and legal parameters govern when and how a professional should offer such an opinion in a legal setting. For this assignment, you will be asked to provide an analysis of factors relevant to custody evaluations or evaluations for termination of parental rights.
In a 3- to 4-page paper, address the following:
The best interests of the child, with a specific focus on how this is defined in the APA guidelines
The manner in which the best-interest decisions are influenced by the wishes of the child
The difference between a fact and an expert witness in the cases of child custody
The specific procedures, including parent interviews, child interviews, observations, and objective tests, used in custody evaluations
The issues surrounding confidentiality, privilege, and privacy in custody evaluations
The court testimony in custody evaluations, with emphasis on the collective use of data and opinion versus fact in reporting the results
When making custody decisions, the professionals involved ensure they put into consideration the best interests of the child. This phrase refers to the nature of the decision that the court takes while making decisions concerning child custody. This phrase specifically refers to the best decisions, services and actions that can best take care of the child’s needs (“American Psychological Association (APA),” (2010). Thus, while making custodial decisions the court must evaluate the best alternative that serves the child’s psychological needs. With regard to this, the court must examine a number of factors before making the final decision. Some of these factors include the physical, educational, and psychological needs of the child. Other key factors to consider are the aptitudes and challenges of the various parties involved. The environmental and cultural factors of the various parties also significantly influence the custody decisions (“APA,” 2010). Lastly, it is important to consider factors such as family dynamics.
While making custodial decisions, judges often rely on various factors such as the ability of each parent to cater financially to the child, the nature of relationship between the child and each parent, the child’s wishes, and among other factors. The wishes of the child have a great influence on the best-interest decisions. Judges are required to consider the best interests of the child before making placement or custody decisions (“Child Welfare Information Gateway,” 2016). However, this depends on the age of the child. Typically, an older child with the ability to make his/her own decisions has a better chance of influencing the best-interest decisions. When the child is old enough to make own decisions, the judge considers his wishes along with various factors to come up with the best decision.
Fact witness and expert witness are different by the manner of which they provide evidence in matters involving child custody. A fact witness may be a forensic psychologist or any other individual who harbors personal knowledge about the events surrounding the case. A fact witness gives testimony about the things he/she have personally witnessed. A fact witness does not offer opinions, but only provides an account of the personal observations made. On the other hand, the expert witness is a specialist in psychology, medicine, or other fields who offers opinion in order to help the judge make correct decision. The major role of the expert witness is to assist the judge make sound decisions by providing technical knowledge relating to the case.
Specific procedures are used in child custody evaluations to establish the best interests of the child. Parent interviews are conducted separately among each parent. During the interview, the life history of the individual is collected as well as mental examination to ascertain the mental health status of each parent (Jaffe & Mandeleew, 2011). Parent interview also focuses on examining issues such as discipline, the ability to understand and cater towards child needs, specific parenting strengths and weaknesses, and other issues. Child interviews focus on examining the expressive abilities and reasoning capabilities of the child. Parent-child observations help in determining the nature of relationship between each parent and the child. Objective tests are psychological tests that help examine personal characteristics of each parent. Other specific procedures include objective personality tests, the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT-IV), projective personality tests, and others (Jaffe & Mandeleew, 2011). These tests are designed to measure the emotional stability of an individual.
Child custody evaluators must ensure that all information remains confidential through proper record-keeping practices. Evaluators must create and maintain records for purpose of future reference. The evaluators are required to take care of their records in order to prevent destruction or loss of the records. The psychology professional and the client must maintain privilege throughout the entire session. The client has specific rights or privilege to confidentiality, which the psychology professional must uphold at all times. Privilege may however vary depending on the role of the individuals concerned – that is, whether a person is an expert witness, a therapist, or fact witness. These groups have different privilege levels. Privilege also varies between states. For instance, California does not accord waiver of privilege to those involved in child custody litigation.
Privacy depends on the role of the individuals involved in child custody evaluation. The psychology professional will often listen to concerns raised by the parent. In such a situation, the psychology professional will most likely take the word of the mouth without deeper investigations. The psychology professional should not disclose doubts or insecurities raised by the parent in court without the permission of the parent. It is important to avoid saying things that an individual may not wish they are revealed to the ex-spouse. The psychologist professional cannot make a negative comment about a client that he/she is representing in court.
Judges often prefer to use in-court testimony rather than written reports in child custody evaluation. The collective use of data to form an opinion is also common. Test data should not be discussed with the client to avoid influencing the results (Quinnell & Bow, 2001). The use of test data helps address specific issues such as assessing the parents’ mental health status and analyzing the parent-child relationship. Psychological testing provides a strong psychological foundation for basing child custody decisions. While relying on facts, courts require individuals to go beyond a “preponderance of evidence” and provide concrete evidence to support their claims. This may be difficult to prove among most individuals, leading to problems in helping provide the best interests of the child.
American Psychological Association (APA). (2010). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in family law proceedings. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/child- custody.pdf
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Determining the best interests of the child. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/best_interest.pdf
Jaffe, A. M., & Mandeleew, D. (2011). Essentials of a forensic child custody evaluation. ABA. Retrieved from http://www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/law_trends_news_practice_a rea_e_newsletter_home/2011_spring/forensic_custody_evaluation.html
Quinnell, F. A., & Bow, J. N. (2001). Psychological tests used in child custody evaluations. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 19: 491-501.
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