Essay: Child custody in divorce proceedings

The division of assets in a divorce is riddled with conflict, the value often varies according to the assets relative worth to each of the parties. Although divorce is stressful enough, even more painful is the determination of custody as children are not assets and cannot be divided. During divorce, children have already been affected by the divorce, and could be further impacted by a custody battle. Attorneys and courts are in constant battle to determine which parent would be the better primary caregiver and custodial parent. The legal system and psychological associations have come up with many ways to evaluate and help the legal process with the determination of child custody. A Custody Evaluation, is a formal investigation that attempts to assess the level of each parent’s respective parenting skills, and to determine which parent may be best suited to care for a child or children. Although the battery of child custody evaluations were developed to help simplify the decision, some believe that this process may have further complicated it. In addition to the questions of objectivity raised about the tests themselves, there are the questions raised about the individuals who evaluate them.
Child custody evaluations have progressed tremendously over the last 10 years. The development and use of psychological evaluations for both children and parents is becoming more of the norm. The American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association of Family Conciliation Court (AFCC) have also improved the requirements and qualifications of the evaluators and improve the quality of the evaluators’ reports and their abilities to provided fair and impartial information and quality case analysis and recommendations. During a custody evaluation, the evaluator may use multiple avenues to complete their reports. These results come from testing, evaluations and interviews. Many of the interviews and assessments will include parents and children, and if necessary; educators, pediatricians, babysitters and other important people in the child’s life, such as stepparents, siblings and grandparents. The evaluator can choose to interview friends and other family members if they feel that those individuals may be unbiased, fair and reasonable.
As part of the overall custody evaluation, psychological data received from testing, can provide additional information and perspective to the court on what may be in a child’s best interest, and can increase the objectivity of the court when making a decision in child custody cases. The primary purpose of a child custody tests are to assess the individual and family attributes that affect the psychological interests of the child. The child’s interests and well-being are the most important factor of the child during a custody battle. The focus of the testing is on parenting, and the psychological and developmental needs of the child. While trying to decide what is in the best interests of the child, the psychologist will also assess the parenting abilities of the parent who is most likely to be chosen as the primary custodial parent.
There are multiple tests available to help in child custody evaluations. One of the more popular test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2). This test will not tell the evaluator who the better parent will be, but rather identifies psychological disorders and evaluate cognitive functioning. Along with the MMPI-2, evaluators may also use a variety of other tests and assessments. These may include the Million Clinical MultiAxial Inventory (MCMMI-3) whose purpose is to find personality disorders based on the answers given to 175 true/false questions. The TAT or Thematic Apperception Test may also be used and asks the respondent to describe what they see when viewing 31 black and white drawings of people, the responses are supposed to reveal personality traits. Also used, may be the Bricklin Perceptual Scale or BPS. This test was designed specifically for custody cases and evaluations. It is the most widely used testing unit across the 50 United States. The test is made up of 64 questions for the child about the parents; it also includes a picture-drawing by the child of the family, each parent and the child. The child will also complete a story about how the family resolves disputes and also offers questions for the adults (parents) to complete. The ASPECT or Ackerman-Schoedorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody includes a variety of tests. These include MMPI-2, IQ tests for both parents and the child, a draw-a-person component and the TAT. The ASPECT also includes interviews with the parents. Both the BPS test and the ASPECT have been criticized and questioned regarding their validity.
As with anything good, there is also the bad or a risk. To reply upon psychological tests not designed for use in the context of child custody evaluations, makes these tests subject to misinterpretation and can be deemed unreliable. It may also be possible for one to misuse and misunderstand the test results, and to predict future behaviors. It must also be recognized that a divorce and child custody battle is one of life’s most stressful events, and the parties undergoing psychological testing are reacting and responding within this context. Many of the parties are good people forced to function in a stressful set of circumstances while suffering from emotional turmoil. Within this context, psychological testing may not be structured to consider these issues, and thus cannot distinguish between deep-seated psychological issues and psychological problems arising from the situation.
Child custody evaluations may be necessary to assist with the unwillingness, or inability of the parties during the issue of custody. During high-conflict divorces, the parties may not have the ability to work with each other, even for the good of the children. It is also seen in families where domestic violence has occurred to seek the assistance of a child custody evaluator in the issue of custody arrangements. In these and other situations, the use of psychological testing assist the evaluator to attempt to determine and review the psychological make-up of the parties, their possible personality deficits, and their potential for distortion or outright lying. Psychological testing may also allow the evaluator to learn more about the parties’ personality traits, how these traits can affect their parenting styles, as well as how they may impact upon interactions between the parents. This information becomes useful when the evaluator is called upon to make recommendations to the court with regard to custody, visitation, and assist in developing a general parenting plan for the parties.
Along with psychological testing, the custody evaluation will also include individual interviews with the children as long as they do not create a stressful situation for the child. The evaluation will include how the child spends time with each parent, what the child likes and dislikes about each parent, the kinds of activities the parent and child engage in together, and how discipline is administered. The evaluator should not try to obtain a preference, as to who the child wants to be the primary parent, unless the child is old enough to make this decision or give an unsolicited response without emotional or possibly psychological consequences. During the interview process the evaluator may choose to do a home visit if they feel it necessary. This would take place if allegations have been made that a home environment is unsatisfactory or unacceptable for any reason, a home visit would then be included.
A custody evaluation should provide a quality section summarizing the facts and findings as well as include a list of conclusions and recommendations based on these facts and findings of the evaluation. During the report the evaluator should give an unbiased conclusion and explanation of how the information collected was processed and interpreted to reach the final recommendation to the court. As the evaluator completes his report, they should make sure it is easily interpreted and communicated. In the end, the completed report, interviews, testing and evaluations, should provide the courts with quality findings. The final word comes from the court itself. The judge may give a lot of consideration to the evaluator’s findings, this being that the evaluator has actually spent time with the family and the child. The court should carefully consider the evaluator’s final report and recommendations and make a decision using the information provided and given by the evaluator.
As a result of the custody evaluation with the use of psychological testing, evaluations and interviewing; and after the report has been made and given to the court; the following recommendations can be made from such information. The court can use the custody evaluation to determine custody and visitations, as well as legal and physical custody. During this time the court will use the findings to set forth a proper parenting plan for the child. This includes recommendations which are extremely precise and provide direction to the parents on how to modify visitation agreements when necessary. A parenting plan, with the assistance of the custody evaluation will outline the time-share between the parents and how parents might deal with future conflict-resolution. With conflict-resolution being difficult for many families who need a custody evaluation, the evaluator should make recommendations about how to work together to solve future problems. In some instances, the evaluator might suggest a Special Master or Parenting Coordinator, someone who is like a binding arbitrator, to work with the family on an ongoing basis to learn to resolve future problems. The custody evaluation may give insight and recommendations pertaining to therapy recommendations for either the parents or the children, which can include specific treatment. The evaluation may also recommend parenting classes to help parents improve their understanding of their child’s needs. In the case of very young children, evaluators might recommend a re-evaluation as the child gets older and their needs significantly change.
Overall, if the child custody evaluation, is approached correctly, the process can be an opportunity for both parents to work together on behalf of the children. Custody evaluations should guide, what could be difficult custody battle in the right direction and result in a healthier resolution for all involved. Therefore, custody evaluations should be mandatory in all custody matters.

Source: Essay UK - http://lecloschateldon.com/essays/law/essay-child-custody-in-divorce-proceedings/


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