During a contested custody matter in Supreme Court or Family Court, the parents can agree to, or the court can order, a psychological evaluation of the parents and child(ren). This is sometimes referred to as a “forensic evaluation.” The goal of such an evaluation is to assist the court in making a determination as to what custodial arrangements are in each child’s best interests.
The evaluation does not constitute counseling or therapy, but is an assessment of the family to determine each parent’s ability to be a custodial parent.
The examining psychologist will usually meet with each parent individually, with the parents together, with the children, and with each parent and the children. Among other relevant topics, the examiner will inquire as to family history, each parent’s concerns about the other parent, concerns that the children may have, current and historical information regarding psychological and physical health of each parent and child, each family member’s history with alcohol or substance abuse, and, if a child is of sufficient age and maturity, his or her preferences.
The examiner may administer psychological testing and interview “collateral sources,” that is, other individuals who have information pertinent to the examiner’s assignment. These other individuals may include the child’s grandparents, teachers, physicians, counselors, daycare providers and coaches. The examiner may also interview the significant other(s) of each parent, particularly if a significant other lives in a parent’s household.
At the conclusion of the evaluation, the examiner will issue a written report setting forth his or her observations and conclusions. The report of the evaluator will be submitted to the judge assigned to hear your custody proceeding. If the judge deems it appropriate, copies of the report will be provided to the attorneys for each party. Usually each party has the right to read the report, but is prohibited from having a copy of the report, thereby preventing any misuse or dissemination of it.
The psychological evaluation can be a valuable tool for the court in rendering its custodial determination, but the psychologist does not have the authority to make decisions nor to impose his or her findings upon the court or the parents.
If a psychological evaluation is ordered or advisable in your custody suit, you will be instructed by your attorney as to the steps involved and the proper way to conduct yourself, including providing complete cooperation and honesty to the examiner.