In general, a psychological evaluation is a process that involves collecting data about an individual or individuals to answer a specific referral question. Examples of referral questions for psychological evaluations include “Does my child have ADHD?” or “Is there a reason why my adolescent is having problems with making friends?” According to the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), a child custody evaluation is “a process through which information and opinions bearing upon the custody of, parenting of, and access to children can be made known to the court, to the litigants, and the litigants’ attorneys in those cases in which the parents and/or other primary caregivers are unable to develop their own parenting plans.” In other words, if the caregivers cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the judge will be forced to make that decision and may request an evaluation to assist in making that decision.

What Should I Respect If The Judge Orders An Evaluation?

A child custody evaluation can be a lengthy process, given the number of individuals who may need to be evaluated. However, there is a typical evaluation process that consists of the following:

  • An initial review of court documents, relevant medical records, child school records, police reports, prior evaluations, or other documents that may be of importance to the referral question;
  • Interviews with the defendant’s attorney, the plaintiff’s attorney, and Guardian Ad Litem;
  • Clinical interviews with parents/guardians and/or other pertinent caregivers;
  • Psychological Evaluations of parents/guardians and/or other pertinent caregivers;
  • Clinical interview of the children, separately from parents/caregivers;
  • Psychological evaluation of the children.

In some cases, the following may be added to the evaluation if requested by the judge, or is necessary to effectively answer the court’s referral question:divorce

  • Structured observations of the children with each parent individually;
  • Observations of the children with both parents;
  • Assessment of the home environments (both parents);
  • Collateral interviews (e.g., teachers, family members).

It is important for the psychologist to conduct a comprehensive evaluation, giving the same psychological tests to all caregivers involved. This makes everything fair to all parties involved. For example, if a personality evaluation is ordered for the father, but not the mother, how can an opinion be made about the “best interest of the child” when the other parent’s personality is not also considered? A comprehensive evaluation, that would best assist with answering the question “best interest of the child,” is better accomplished by being a neutral evaluator (i.e., a court-appointed, or Guardian Ad Litem appointed psychologist) and by evaluating all caregivers with the exact procedures. Therefore, I prefer to evaluate all pertinent caregivers using the same assessment measures and assessment procedures.

 What to Expect During Your Appointments

Mental health evaluators abide by the rules and standards of their licensing boards. I am a licensed clinical psychologist, so I abide by the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association (APA). There are limits between the evaluator (me) and those I evaluate. Let me explain these limits:

  • I am licensed to practice psychology – not law or medicine or any other profession. Therefore, I am only qualified to provide information to you, and within the report, related to clinical psychology. The attorney/judge will provide information to you regarding any legal questions or concerns you may have.
  • In your best interest and in adherence to APA standards, our role is limited. It is important for the evaluation process that the evaluator is objective, open, and uninfluenced by personal factors, which is why this standard is enforced by APA. Therefore, during any time during the evaluation, I will recuse myself as an examiner if there is a business or personal relationship with any pertinent party in the case; of course, with the judge’s consent.

Will My Information Be Confidential?

Given that this is a court-referred or Guardian Ad Litem referred evaluation, confidentiality applies only to the court. Therefore, anything reported to me, observed by me, or obtained by me for the purpose of the evaluation, may be included in the written report, which will be provided to the judge and attorneys. In certain cases, the report may become a part of public record. There will not be a feedback to individuals who were evaluated due to the court being the actual ‘client.’ Any copy of the report that you want will have to be obtained from your attorney, or public court records.

Also, during the course of the evaluation, if you tell me that you plan to harm yourself or someone else, I will have to immediately report this information to the authorities (e.g., police or hospital). If you share with me any ‘substantiated’ information that involves child abuse or elder abuse, this will also have to be reported to the appropriate authorities. If a false report is made (or has been made), this will be included in the psychological report.

What If I Just Do Not Show For The Appointments

An appointment is a commitment to work towards completing the evaluation. It is essential that appointments are kept. If you must miss an appointment, call the clinic (501-812-4268) 24-hours in advance when possible. If you do not call, this is considered a “No-Call-No-Show” appointment. This is more significant than a “No-Show” appointment. However, information about punctuality, engagement during the evaluation, cooperation, etc., will be included in the report when relevant in the clinical impressions/interpretations section of the final psychological report.

If You Need More Information

We are happy to assist you, but please discuss any questions about the relevancy of a child custody evaluation with your attorney. In most divorce proceedings, an evaluation is not necessary. If the judge orders an evaluation, your attorney can call the office at 501-812-4268, fax the office at 501-812-4286, or email me at mjackson@arfamiliesfirst.com. Remember that any court order for an evaluation needs to be immediately faxed to the office so that the evaluation process can be completed in a timely manner. Learn more about my services at arfamiliesfirst.com/melissa-jackson-phd/