How can a psychologist help in a custody dispute?
As a psychologist, there are many different points during a divorce or after a divorce that may come to my attention. When thinking of custody disputes, it is helpful to think of a continuum. At one end, there is little conflict between the parties to the other end in which there is significant conflict that causes many difficulties. When there is a low level conflict, the parties are often able to work out a parenting agreement but may seek a mediator to help them with some specific questions such as what is an appropriate decision given their child(ren)’s needs and developmental level. These parents can typically resolve their conflicts and work together to meet their child(ren)’s needs. Mediation is usually indicated in these cases. When there is a moderate level of conflict, the parents likely still have unresolved marital issues and they may belittle the other parent or have arguments in front of the child(ren). Over time, they are able to work through their feelings about the divorce and be better able to co-parent their child(ren). In these cases, either mediation or parent coordination is often helpful in resolving disputes and sometimes psychological evaluations are requested. When there is a moderate level of conflict, the child(ren) are being placed in the middle of their parents’ conflict and there may be signicant questions about one parent’s (or both parents’) ability to parent. The parents’ conflict has been escalated and the parents often put down the other parent in front of the child and may be trying have the child(ren) take sides with them. In these cases, a psychological evaluation is often performed to evaluate the parenting capacities of each parent and often a parenting coordinator is used to facilitate resolution of conflicts as they arise with regards to coparenting. In cases in which there is serious conflict, there is minimal or no capacity to resolve any issues with regards to coparenting. Significant issues are usually present such as domestic violence, physical abuse, estrangement of the child(ren) from one of the parents, or ongoing substance abuse. A psychological evaluation is usually indicated that not only makes recommendations about parenting time and custody, but on other issues such as how to set up child exchanges to minimize problems between the parties.
How can a custody evaluation be helpful?
A custody evaluation can be helpful in not only making recommendations concerning parenting time and custody, but also to offer possible solutions that minimize the chances of problems between the parents. Examples would include how to set up child exchanges to minimize problems between the parties, whether or not a parenting coordinator would be beneficial, determing treatment needs of either the parents and/or child(ren), determining if supervised parenting time is necessary, and recommending ways in which reunification take place between a parent and child(ren) who have been alienated. All of these recommendations would be aimed at minimizing the risk of exposure to conflict or other harmful behavior.
How can a psychologist inform the Court and attorneys about the Michigan Child Custody Factors?
As a forensic psychologist, I am in a unique position to analyze the Michigan Child Custody Factors and inform the Court. For instance, in relation to Factor A: The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties and the children. I can assess the relative emotional health of the bonds between the parties and the children. The issue is not just to whom the children and parents are attached, but the relative strength and health of those attachments. Are these secure, insecure, disorganized? How are these bonds impacted by developmental issues with the children, or by emotional difficulties, family dynamics, or personality difficulties in the parents? Can the parties separate the children’s needs from their own? Another important aspect of this is to whom the children look to meet their physical and emotional needs? To whom do they turn with problems, successes or triumphs? What do the children say about their parents (if they are old enough to talk about their parents)? Do they express preferences, and in what circumstances do they prefer each parent? As a psychologist with experience in custody matters, these are questions that I would explore and comment on in a custody evaluation.
What does a custody evaluation entail?
An evaluation consists of several different parts. After filling out a questionnaire concerning your background, you will be interviewed about pertinent information available both in terms of the issue that has brought you before the Court as well as some general questions concerning your background. A review of any available records is completed. Finally, psychological testing is conducted which usually involves several different tests. The interview and testing typically take approximately 4 hours for each person evaluated and the writing of the evaluation takes several additional hours. In custody evaluations, it is common to interview the children both separately and then with each of the parents. At the end of the interviews, a psychological report is generated and sent to the appropriate parties.