I heard a significant number of stories about custody evaluations and read a great many of the evaluations "cover to cover". I have to say that when reading these evaluations, I wondered, "How in the world did they reach that recommendation?" I also questioned, "Where is the data supporting this?"
- Many couples report that when they initially decided to divorce, they promised each other that they would work cooperatively together for the sake of the kids. Once money factored into the equation, all bets were off. Human factor: When it comes to perceived threats to my survival, I'll do whatever it takes to come out ahead. Competition. Also, paying money to someone that I now hate is an issue. Somehow, the interests of my kids fades into the background.
- Mothers and Fathers, alike, reported that they left the marriage for the health and safety of the children. Nice touch. That is, of course, until all of the sordid events on both sides were revealed. Human factor: Whatever I do is never as bad as whatever you've done. I will minimize, marginalize, deny and explain away any of my bad behavior. I am a better parent than you are.
- When lawyers get involved, the perception of threat and subsequently, aggression increases. Human factor: Attorneys are smart and usually competitive people. Their competitiveness is infectious and any shred of "we" has now become "me" versus "you". You inherit their need to beat the other family lawyer.
- When parents cannot agree on visitation and the general needs of the children and the court provides opportunity after opportunity through mediation and other resources, to resolve the conflict, the only tool left is a child custody evaluation. Human factor: Now, there's another layer in the competition, but this layer has a veil of impartiality which is impossible to achieve. I felt as though, finally, someone would see what a whack job s/he is and we can move on.
- Each parent believes that they know the needs of the children best and will dictate, continually, your parenting faults depending on the reports of the children. Human factor: Some kids play parents off against one another. Intentionally or unintentionally, I will communicate to the kids that this is a contest that I intend to win. All inside information is welcome no matter what. It doesn't matter to me if s/he will never be the kind of parent I want him/her to be, s/he needs to strive to meet my expectations.
That about covers the highlights. Now, the situation has devolved to where more and more people need to be involved in helping these adults to behave as adults and put their children first. That will be accomplished through the child custody evaluation. Actually, no it won't, but what are the alternatives? I'll present my resolution to this ridiculousness toward the end.
Keep in mind that although the evaluator is a trained, experienced and licensed clinician, they are human. They are human in the worst ways possible because they can't control their humanity, may not be aware of their weaknesses and they may work to ignore and even deny these human failings. They are likely to be unwilling to say, "I don't know" and are unlikely to consult with others to "fill-in-the-blanks".
1. They have their inherent likes and dislikes.
2. They do their best to offset these prejudices and they may actually think they've pulled it off, but it's nearly impossible.
3. They can't help that you look like the sister they hate/are jealous of.
4. They can't help it that you look like their long-term boyfriend who left them, broke their heart and they still haven't gotten over him.
5. You have more money, status and prestige than they will ever have and they just can't get past that.
The two "E's-Envy and Ego. Yep, they can be a huge factor in the ultimate outcome of the evaluation. You aren't aware of these human failings and if you do come to suspect them, it's way past doing anything about it and the die has been cast. You can't prove it, either, so you are swirling down the drain. Desperation sets in.
1. Some Father's rights groups, in an attempt to level the playing field against the unequal treatment of Fathers, have put the answers to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and the Rorschach online with the recommended responses to achieve the desired result. A true sociopath could discern the pattern of the Minnesota anyway.
2. The evaluator will conduct a number of interviews and use whatever standardized and informal tools to get the information they need to come to conclusions about the custody arrangements and needs of the children.
3. The interviews typically involve the children if they are of an age and condition to participate and of course, the parents. Whoever performs the best wins the heart of the evaluator. Unless the children are older and can unemotionally and clearly articulate the situations at home, their input is likely to be minimized. They're just kids, what do they know.
1. Most of the child custody evaluators that I am familiar with and this is, by no means, all of the evaluators in the United States, have only cursory knowledge of the needs of those children with autism, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities, language processing disorders, mild intellectual disabilities or the childhood manifestation of bipolar disorder or the early symptoms of personality disorders.
Perhaps it is the case that these children's issues have not been detected, evaluated or addressed at the time of the child custody assessment. The evaluator, due to a lack of experience with and knowledge about the various developmental disabilities, may make recommendations that aren't in the best interest of those children.
2. Occasionally, it's Dad who brings a child in for assessment, but mostly, it's Mom. So, when it comes time for a child custody evaluation and Mother is the one with all of the information about the child and their specific needs and that information is shared with the evaluator, Mother is seen as overly involved. Actually, it represents a division of labor and responsibilities. It doesn't mean Father doesn't care or Mother is overly involved, it's just that someone has to take the lead.
3. I have a remarkable number of parents who've shared with me the positions listed in #2. Parents were concerned about this "preferential" treatment even when it wasn't them being "preferred". They didn't want to see these "leanings" when it came to their children.
4. Do these evaluators have enough experience to understand how to interview a child? Are they intimately aware of the developmental dynamics? Most therapist work with adults, so no, they don't have what it takes to work with both adults and children under stress.
In 23 years of private practice and being well-known to the professional community, not once, never, ever did a child custody evaluator ever reach out to me to ask questions about the needs of the children of a family involved in a custody conflict. I could never figure out if it was arrogance or that they "didn't know what they didn't know". How disappointing. It wasn't as if I would have ever asked for compensation. They know me better than that...
Psychiatrists are physicians and they are governed here in California by the Medical Board. Let me tell you a story...
One of my clients was undergoing a child custody evaluation with a well-regarded psychiatrist. I thought the family was in good hands, that is, of course, until I spoke with another psychologist who also conducted custody evaluations. This psychologist shared with me that the psychiatrist had been sexually involved with one of his patients leading her to have a psychotic break. She and her husband sued him in the very same courthouse where he was on the custody panel, but because there was no supervising psychologist overseeing the panel, he was still on it.
I shared this information with mother. She explained to me her plan to find the documentation and bring his misdeeds to the attention of the family court judges. I believe her plan worked. He's not longer doing custody evaluations. I can't imagine the harm he did to families during the years between his violation of his client and the time when he was discharged from the panel.
There wasn't a peep about the sensational malpractice lawsuit, the whopping financial judgment he paid or any charges brought against him on the California Medical Board website. Nothing. I wonder why. Did he make a deal? If so, was justice served? No.
This scenario is offered to drive home the point that you cannot know. You just can't.
If the other parent is "good enough", then that's what you'll have to tolerate It doesn't matter that you don't like his/her new girlfriend/boyfriend. It doesn't matter if vegetables aren't served as frequently as you'd like. Learn to live with "good enough", just as long as no "real" harm is being done and the children aren't in any type of danger. I'm not telling you what do do. Just check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Do what you can to avoid getting into the grind of a child custody evaluation. The attorneys and the child custody evaluators are the only ones who gain.
As the song says, "You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need". Think in those terms. You had children with this person. The kids are counting on you to fix it.
These experts should include specialists in marriage/relationships, psychopathology, child development and associated disabilities and an attorney specializing in family law. When needed, specialists in autism, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral therapies should consult with the panel.
If this process is authentically about the kids, then let's set about doing right by them. The current system is not working. It's not working for any family I have yet to see. You know the definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. It just doesn't happen.
I'm not in a position to make this happen, but other people are and I hope they move forward. I'm ready to help whenever I'm needed.
Just do the best you can. TTFN, Claudia
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