| Searching the Web for a
are many web sites that deal with
custody evaluations. Some contain on- line attacks against an
evaluator; others are postings by self-described professionals who
are anything but professional. Some purport to be for
“father’s rights” or “mother’s
rights.” Some evaluators
that you find on the web are not even licensed.
Caveat emptor! Like
else on the Internet, looks can be deceiving. It's important to have
a healthy dose of skepticism when reviewing custody evaluation
websites and to verify an evaluator's credentials.
Only pick an
evaluator that has a valid license
in the state where you are having the evaluation performed. Most states
have a web site where you can check for ethical, malpractice, any
professional misconduct or sanctions against an individual. The web
site for Pennsylvania is www.licensepa.state.pa.us
The job of the
custody evaluator is to help the Court understand the needs of the
children and the abilities of the parents to meet those needs. It is
important to find an evaluator that does
not have an agenda regarding mothers vs. fathers, but is focused
solely on the needs of your children.
on the Web
when a custody evaluation is
completed, one--or sometimes both parents-- are unhappy with the
results, because the recommendation was not what they had hoped for.
In this Internet age, it is easy to vent anger on the web and
the evaluator, and even the judge in the custody case. Evaluators are
limited in rebutting false accusations on the web because of privacy
laws. Be cautious if you find critical posts on the web, especially
if they are posted by anonymous people. They are often just highly
distorted presentations or out-and-out lies. If you have any
questions about postings that you see about an evaluator, ask the
evaluator about it. Many highly qualified and ethical people have had
outrageous postings by disgruntled clients unhappy with the
makes the decision
evaluator makes recommendations to
the Court. Once a report is completed, it is sent to the attorneys.
You and your attorney can then use that report to try to work out an
agreement with the other parent. If you cannot reach an agreement,
then you put the decision in the hands of the Court. It is the Court
that then makes the final determination about custody. In a trial,
the custody evaluation is just one piece of evidence that will
be presented along with other information presented by the attorneys.
If you intend to have a custody evaluation performed, understand that
the evaluation is only one tool a Judge will use to help make a
decision regarding your family.
is the purpose of
having a custody evaluator do an evaluation?
custody evaluator looks for
information about the conditions that will best serve the child.
Often parents are so angry at each other that they do not think
clearly about how the child would feel, or what the benefit would be
to the child if the other parent is excluded from that child’s
life. The flaws you see in the other parent may or may not be seen as
flaws to an experienced mental health practitioner. The evaluator
uses his/her education, experience and training to weigh the benefits
of each parent in the life of the child. A parent who hates the other
parent often cannot see past their need for revenge. Your
issues often do not have any bearing on what is in the best interest
of the child. Judges take the
recommendations of the evaluator
and consider them along with each parent’s testimony and all of
other evidence presented.
is the report
reports are not written for
the client. Some lawyers release the report directly to each
client. However, the report contains technical and sometimes
confusing information that often cannot be interpreted properly by a
client. Testing results are often confusing to clients and some of
the clinical words and phrases used differ in meaning from the way a
lay person would interpret them. The conclusions and recommendations
in the report are based on the totality of the information contained
in the report. The reports are basically a vehicle to help the judge
have more complete data to help them decide about the best interests
of your children.
I recommend that
you and your attorney use an evaluator who is licensed in the State
where the custody question is being decided. If the evaluator is not
licensed, you may not have any avenue to file a complaint if the
evaluator violates professional standards. I am an expert witness for
The Prosecuting Attorneys’ Office of The Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. I am often asked to examine cases to see if any
violations of ethics and professional standards have taken place when a
complaint is filed. If the evaluator is unlicensed you have no recourse
with the State.
are many people promoting themselves on the Internet that do not hold
licenses, have on-line degrees, have degrees that are not in mental
health, have agendas, and are willing to testify to anything for a fee.
Anyone can hang a shingle that says they are an expert. You can check
with the Licensing Board of your State for licensing and any ethical
misconduct from a licensed professional.
am a founding member of the Custody
Tack Force of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, and of the
Parenting Coordination Task Force. These groups work to promote
professional standards for these evaluations. I have performed
evaluations for over 30 years.