Conducting Child Custody Evaluations: From Basic to Complex Issues
Publication Year: 2011
Covering the mental health expert's many roles as therapist, mediator, evaluator, consultant to attorneys, expert witness, and more, Philip M. Stahl's Conducting Child Custody Evaluations: From Basic to Complex Issues addresses key topics such as the best interests of the child, custody and time share, divorce and its impact on children, and children's developmental needs. From tackling the terror of testifying to critiquing your own child custody evaluations and avoiding bias inherent in this work, this practical and easy-to-read book offers comprehensive coverage vital to practitioners in this field.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Critical Professional and Ethical Issues
- Chapter 1: Introduction to the Role, Ethics, and Professional Responsibility
- How the Court Benefits From an Evaluation
- How the Family Benefits From an Evaluation
- When Is an Evaluation Harmful?
- Who Is the Client/Consumer?
- Practice Standards and Ethical Issues
- Evaluator Biases
- Gender Bias
- Cultural Bias
- Primacy or Recency Bias
- Confirmatory Bias
- Bias From Psychological Test Data
- “Truth Lies Somewhere in the Middle” Bias
- “Attila the Hun Doesn't Marry Mother Theresa” Bias
- “For the Move” or “Against the Move” Bias
- Reducing the Risk of Bias
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 2: The Mental Health Expert's Many Possible Roles
- Therapeutic Reunification
- Collaborative Law Coach
- Psychologist Evaluator/Psychiatrist/Vocational Evaluator
- Consultant to Attorney/Expert Witness
- Parent Coordinator (PC)
- The Custody Evaluator
- Dual Relationships
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 3: Fundamental Questions in Most Custody Evaluations
- The Best Interests of the Child
- The Family's Relationships
- Parenting Strengths and Weaknesses
- The Co-Parental Relationship
- Time-Sharing Recommendations
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 4: General Divorce-Related Research and Basic Statutory and Case Law
- A Quick Primer on Research
- Risks of Divorce to Children
- Risk Versus Resilience
- Mitigating Factors
- Research on Parents' Relationships After Divorce
- Basic Statutory and Case Law
- Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (1997)
- Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act
- Troxel v. Granville (2000)
- Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
- California Statutes
- California Case Law
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 5: Children's Developmental Needs
- A Developmental Framework
- Infants and Toddlers (0–3 Years)
- Never Paint by the Numbers
- Preschoolers (3–5 Years)
- School-Age Children (6–12 Years)
- Adolescents (13–17 Years)
- Children's Reactions to Parental Conflict
- Giving Children a Voice Versus Protecting Their Privacy
- Weighing the Needs of a Single Child Versus the Needs of a Sibling Group
- Balancing the Individual Child's Real Needs With the Ideal
- The Bottom Line
Part II: Conducting the Child Custody Evaluation
- Chapter 6: Conducting the Evaluation: Part I. Observations and Techniques With Adults
- The Court Order and Initial Contact With Attorneys
- The Initial Phone Call and Contacts With Parents
- The Initial Contract
- The First Conjoint Appointment
- The Initial Individual Appointment
- The Second Interview and Beyond
- What to Believe?
- Collateral Information
- The Use of Psychological Tests
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 7: Conducting the Evaluation: Part II. Observations and Techniques With Children
- Significant Issues in the Assessment of Children/Gaining Rapport at the Beginning of the First Interview
- Children and the Potential for Suggestibility
- Children and Their Language
- Gathering Information About the Child's Experiences
- Directly Assessing the Parent–Child Bond
- Siblings Together, or Not?
- Use of Play and Other Techniques in Understanding Children
- Home Visits
- The Preference of the Child
- Cautions in Interviewing Children
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 8: The Use of Psychological Testing in Custody Evaluations
- Review of the Literature
- Traditional Psychological Tests
- Objective Personality Tests
- Projective Personality Tests
- Tests Designed Specifically for Custody Evaluations
- Parenting Inventories
- Tests for Children
- Benefits of Using Tests
- Risks in Using Tests
- Computerized Test Results
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 9: Gathering Collateral Data
- What Are Collateral Data?
- Benefits of Using Collateral Data
- Record Review
- Gathering Lists of Collateral Sources
- Who to Talk To: A Concentric-Circle Approach
- Interviewing Collateral Sources
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 10: Sharing the Results of the Evaluation: The Evaluation Report
- AFCC Model Standards
- Basic Characteristics of a Quality Report
- Information That Must Be in Every Report
- Identifying Information and Statements of Informed Consent
- Background Information
- The Parents
- The Children
- Collateral Information
- Analysis and Summary
- The Bottom Line
Part III: Complex Issues to Be Evaluated
- Chapter 11: Nonviolent High-Conflict Families
- Contribution of Personality Features
- Contribution From Other Sources
- Recommendations for High-Conflict Families
- Structured Recommendations
- Neutral Decision-Maker (Parent Coordinator)
- Parallel Parenting
- Using a Parent Communication Notebook
- A Case for Sole Legal Custody or Decision-Making to One Parent
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 12: Domestic Violence
- The Concept of Differentiation
- Situational Couples Violence (SCV)
- Coercive–Controlling Violence (CCV)
- Separation Instigated Violence (SIV)
- Approaching the Family's Domestic Violence Issues
- Parenting Problems of CCV Domestic Violence Parents
- Gathering the Data
- History of the Family's Domestic Violence
- Specific Questions to Ask Parents
- The Children in These Families
- The Alphabet Soup of Data Used to Formulate Conclusions
- Primary Perpetrator
- Parenting Problems
- Perspective of the Child
- Reflective Functioning
- Using the PPPPP Analysis With the RRR Concepts to Reach a Decision About the Parenting Plan
- Therapeutic and Structural Interventions
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 13: The Alienated Child
- Contribution to the Child's Alienated Response
- Parent Contributions to the Development of Alienation
- Child Contributions to the Development of Alienation
- Typical Alienated Behaviors in Children
- Emotional Impact of Alienation on Children
- Dynamics of the Larger System
- Evaluation of Alienation
- The Aligned Parent
- The Rejected Parent
- The Children
- Other Reasons for Alignment With One Parent: What to Look for in the Children
- Concluding the Evaluation
- When Alienation Is Present
- Recommended Interventions and Custodial Options
- Parentectomies: Do They Help?
- Some Promising Alternatives
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 14: Relocation Evaluations
- Legal Considerations in Relocation Evaluations: Relevant Case Law
- Legal Considerations in Relocation Evaluations: Relevant Statutory Law
- The Psychological Literature Related to Relocation
- Societal Issues That Often Lead to Requests to Move
- Factors for the Evaluator to Consider
- The Actual Time-Sharing Arrangement by the Parents and the History of That Arrangement
- The Age, Maturity, Interests, Activities, and Special Needs (When Relevant) of the Child
- Social Capital in Each Location
- Gender, Temperament, and Fit Between Each Parent and Child
- Potential Loss to the Child: What Is the Child Likely to Experience if the Proposed Move Does or Does Not Take Place?
- The Child's Adjustment to Home, School, and Community and the Length of Time That the Child Has Been in a Stable Environment
- The Preference of a Mature Child
- The Reasons for the Proposed Move, and Whether or Not the Proposed Move Is in Good Faith or Designed to Thwart the Legitimate Relationship Between the Child and the Other Parent
- The Reasons for Opposing the Move and Whether or Not the Opposition Is in Good Faith or Designed to Thwart the Legitimate Need of the Custodial Parent to Move
- The Advantages of Moving for Both the Parent and the Child
- The Distance of the Move, Including the Travel Time and Cost of Travel Between Homes
- Is the Move Representative of Stability or a Pattern of Instability on the Part of the Moving Parent?
- The Feasibility of a Move by the Noncustodial Parent
- Whether or Not the Moving Parent Is Likely to Comply With an Access Order
- The Permanence (or Lack Thereof) of the Proposed Situation
- The Mental and Physical Health of All Persons Involved
- Whether or Not There Are Any False Allegations of Abuse
- Special Issues in International Cases
- Avoiding Bias
- The Bottom Line
Part IV: Other Critical Issues
- Chapter 15: Tackling the Terror of Testifying
- The Deposition
- The Process at Trial
- Preparing for the Testimony
- Testifying Procedures
- Stick to the Data
- Avoid Ipse Dixit Assertions
- Dealing With Hypothetical Questions
- Remain Professional
- Trick Questions
- Do's and Don'ts for Testifying in Court
- The Bottom Line
- Chapter 16: Critiquing Evaluations
- Boy Scout Oath
- Chapter 17: Conclusions
- Special Needs Issues of Children
- Substance Abuse Issues
- Sexual Abuse Allegations
- Longitudinal Evaluations
To Damon—May the Force Always Be With You.With Love, Your Saba
Copyright © 2011 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stahl, Philip Michael.
Conducting child custody evaluations: From basic to complex issues / Philip M. Stahl.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4129-7433-2 (cloth : acid-free paper)
ISBN 978-1-4129-7434-9 (pbk. : acid-free paper)
1. Child welfare—United States. 2. Custody of children—United States—Evaluation. 3. Parent and child (Law)—United States. I. Title.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
10 11 12 13 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Acquisitions Editor: Kassie Graves
Editorial Assistant: Veronica Novak
Production Editor: Karen Wiley
Copy Editor: Kristin Bergstad
Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
Proofreader: Gail Fay
Indexer: Rick Hurd
Cover Designer: Michelle Kenny
Marketing Manager: Stephanie Adams
This is my third book on child custody evaluations. In the more than 25 years that I have done child custody evaluations, and in the 15 years since publication of my first book, Conducting Child Custody Evaluations: A Comprehensive Guide (Stahl, 1994), there has been considerable research on divorce, children's adjustment to divorce, parenting plans, domestic violence, alienated children, and relocation. Along with Complex Issues in Child Custody Evaluations (Stahl, 1999), there has been a growth in the literature associated with child custody and child custody evaluations. Much of this literature has been in books by Ackerman (2001), Gould (1998, 2006), and Gould and Martindale (2007). Additionally, there has been considerable writing in Family Court Review, the journal of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), and a new journal which was first published in 2004, the Journal of Child Custody. AFCC has issued new Model Standards for Child Custody Evaluations (2006), and the American Psychological Association has issued new Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations (2009) to help guide the practice for child custody evaluators. Additionally, the state of California (Rule of Court 5.220) has promulgated rules designed to improve the quality of child custody evaluation work.
During this time, I have been fortunate to present at and attend many multidisciplinary conferences, legal conferences, and judicial education programs across the country. I have presented numerous workshops on a variety of topics associated with child custody and child custody evaluations. I have benefited from exposure to thinking in the field from across the country and around the world. I continue to do evaluations and learn from the families, judges, attorneys, and other evaluators with whom I work. In recent years, I have had an opportunity to critique many evaluations conducted by child custody evaluators across the country. I have seen many excellent evaluations and, unfortunately, some very poor ones. All of this has continued to inform my thinking about child custody and child custody evaluations.
In some ways, however, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Families continue to be complex, as are their child custody issues. Judges increasingly look for multiple ways to help families solve their problems, and practitioners in the field continue to look for ways to ease the [Page xiv]burden of litigation for families. Whereas mediation was in use in a limited number of jurisdictions in 1994, nearly all states now have authorized the use of mediation to help families solve their differences around child custody. There has been growth in collaborative law, in which attorneys and parents use a collaborative approach with mental health and other experts to help coach families through the difficult times. Even with these beneficial changes, however, many families continue to struggle and litigate their way through child custody cases. Family violence continues to be problematic and occasionally misunderstood, some parents have substance abuse problems, some children become alienated or estranged from one parent, and some parents remain in high conflict, often the result of significant personality traits exhibited by one or both parents. In spite of continued support for shared custody, parents continue to argue over and have difficulty resolving disputes about custody and parenting of their children.
With the many changes, new research, and a continued focus on helping families resolve their differences, it is time to update my books. Whereas my first book focused on basic “how to” issues in conducting evaluations and my second book focused primarily on more “complex” issues in child custody evaluations, this comprehensive book addresses all of these significant issues for child custody evaluators. This book is presented in four parts. Part I is focused on critical professional and ethical issues. This includes:
- The purpose of the evaluations, practice standards, confidentiality, and bias (Chapter 1)
- The mental health expert's many possible roles (Chapter 2)
- Fundamental questions that surface in nearly all evaluations (Chapter 3)
- General divorce-related research (Chapter 4)
- Children's developmental needs (Chapter 5)
Part II focuses on the basic tasks of conducting the child custody evaluation. This includes:
- Observations and techniques with adults (Chapter 6)
- Observations and techniques with children (Chapter 7)
- Psychological testing (Chapter 8)
- Gathering collateral data (Chapter 9)
- Sharing the results of the evaluation—The evaluation report (Chapter 10)
Part III focuses on complex issues, including:
- Nonviolent high-conflict families (Chapter 11)
- Domestic violence (Chapter 12)
- The alienated child (Chapter 13)
- Relocation evaluations (Chapter 14)
Part IV focuses on two other critical tasks facing the evaluator, including:
- Tackling the terror of testifying (Chapter 15)
- Critiquing child custody evaluations—the good, the bad, and the ugly (Chapter 16)
Along with this, as in my first book, I will include appendixes. These appendixes include sample forms and informed consent documents, sample questions to ask parents and children, sample report analysis and recommendations in alienation and relocation cases, and recommended reading that is not included in the references.
As before, this book will focus on the complexities involved in conducting child custody evaluations. I still believe that many areas need to be explored in every evaluation, including the psychological functioning of each parent; the history of the parents' relationship; the parenting skills and relative parenting strengths and weaknesses of each parent; the attachment and quality of the relationship between the child and each parent; the child's relationships with siblings, peers, and others; the existence of family violence and the intensity of the parents' conflict and the degree to which the child is exposed to it; the child's temperament and developmental needs; logistical issues, including parents' work schedules and the distance between parents' homes; and the ability (or inability) of the parents to work together to meet their child's needs.
As I stated in my previous books, all of these issues must be addressed and integrated into a discussion related to the “best interests of the child.” Each evaluation must be guided by the statutes of the state in which the court orders the evaluation. The evaluator must also know relevant case law pertinent to specific evaluations. For example, in Arizona, the “best interests of the child” statute is found in AZ 25–403, which defines the factors associated with that particular state's definition of best interests. This is different, for example, from either Michigan's best-interests statute or California's best-interests statute. Similarly, if doing a relocation evaluation in Arizona, the evaluator must know the factors outlined in AZ 25–408, but if doing a similar evaluation in California, there is considerable case law that must be understood (e.g., LaMusga [In re Marriage of LaMusga, 2004]).
Since my last book, I continue to recognize that some people do not understand how complex and difficult child custody evaluations and child custody litigation can be. I have seen evaluators write very brief reports, oversimplifying the family's issues and failing to provide a rationale for the evaluator's recommendations. I also continue to see legislators try to oversimplify the issues in ways that might interfere with the evaluators doing the complex task in front of them. I continue to worry when courts try to oversimplify family issues by encouraging evaluators to be short and brief in their reports or by making rulings that tend to polarize family problems. I continue to worry when judges, attorneys, and evaluators do not understand [Page xvi]the limitations of an evaluator's knowledge, pushing experts to reach conclusions and make recommendations beyond what the data will allow.
I am concerned when evaluators have little or no training in child custody evaluations yet believe they are qualified to perform such evaluations simply because they have read a book or two, know how to perform family interviews, and perform psychological testing. Novices need experience gained by work in the field, an understanding of the research, participation in continuing education workshops, and the assistance of consultation and supervision by more experienced evaluators. I also worry that licensing boards continue to be overwhelmed with complaints by angry litigants and yet do not understand the complexity of child custody evaluation work and do not have the ability to differentiate between ethical and competent evaluations and evaluations that may be below the standard of care.
Finally, I continue to worry about the children of divorce, for whom many decisions are being made that are based on research that still has limitations. I worry about the lack of appropriate integration of children's voices in the courts. At the time this book is being written, the United States still has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Article 12 of that Convention requires that children's voices be heard when courts will be making decisions that affect children's lives. It is critical, in my opinion, to have a forum in which children's voices are heard when court proceedings will be affecting the children. Other countries are doing a much better job of including children's voices in court proceedings (R. M. Stahl, 2007). I also worry that children do not get adequate information about their parents' divorce, decisions of the court, or other relevant information that affects their lives. Regardless of where parents live and the nature of family problems, we still must understand the family divorce through the eyes of the children. As I stated in my first book,
We must understand how the children feel, what they fear and wish, and what makes conflict resolution difficult to achieve. We need to stay focused on the needs of the children, who are vulnerable to the actions of their parents, and who have the most to gain with a healthy resolution of the divorce conflict. (P. Stahl, 1994, p. x)
With this book, I hope to bring greater understanding of these multiple issues so that child custody evaluators, attorneys, and family law judges can better understand the complexities associated with child custody and continue to improve the lives of children caught in the middle of their parents' divorce.A Note on Language Used in This Book
Throughout this book I will be addressing the issues associated with children whose parents live apart. Some parents were never married, some barely knew each other, and some were married for many years. Some children are [Page xvii]the result of a heterosexual relationship by their parents and some children are born in same sex unions and marriages. While there may be issues unique to each of these circumstances, I will use the term divorce to address all of these families.
Similarly, I will interchange genders throughout the book, recognizing that both mothers and fathers can contribute to their child's alienation from the other parent and both mothers and fathers can be violent or engender conflict. Additionally, though there are differences found in the way mothers and fathers generally raise children, I recognize that both mothers and fathers are important to children and that both will have relevant strengths and potential weaknesses in their parenting capacity and functioning.
Finally, even though I do not like the language of custody, I will be referring to it in this book. Most states continue to use the language of custody, while some are shifting to a more appropriate focus on parenting rights and responsibilities (see, e.g., Florida Statute 61.13, enacted in 2008). I will not use the word visitation; instead I will use the words access or parenting time to refer to each parent's time with their children, except when referring to a parent's contact as supervised visitation, since that is the general term used in such circumstances.Acknowledgments
I wish to thank Kassie Graves and the staff at SAGE Publications for their continued support of my work. Kassie has been instrumental in encouraging and guiding me in this task, gently but firmly reminding me of important deadlines. I would like to thank copyeditor Kristin Bergstad who helped correct many literary errors and made suggestions for clarifying the description of my ideas. I would also like to thank the following reviewers for their comments and suggestions: Martha Laughlin, Valdosta State University; Ann Rambo, Nova Southeastern University; Mary Ballou, Northeastern University; M. K. Hamza, Lamar University; Lina Hartocollis, University of Pennsylvania; Lynelle C. Yingling, J&L Human Systems Development; Angela R. Ausbrooks, Texas State University; and Gerald Michaels, California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University.
I also wish to thank my wife, Ruth, for her continued editing assistance, and the families of divorce for all they have taught me over the years. In addition, I wish to thank my own children, Jason and Rebecca, who continue to push me to learn new things and consider new ways of thinking about these, and many other issues in my work and in my life. Rebecca, in particular, since she has attended law school and become a lawyer, has furthered my understanding of the importance of having a venue for the children's voice in court, and I have enjoyed the opportunity and the pleasure of presenting with her on children's issues at conferences and judicial education programs.[Page xviii]
Appendix A: Sample Court Order Appointing Mental Health Professional[Page 269]
Parenting Consultation/Limited Family Assessment FC635
Comprehensive Custody Evaluation Date 1/26/10Appointment of a Behavioral Health Professional
IT IS ORDERED appointing the following Behavioral Health Professional to conduct a (Parenting Consultation/Limited Family Assessment/Comprehensive Custody Evaluation) in this case:
Source: A.R.S. §§25–403, -405(B), -406, -408 & -409; Rule 76(A), Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.
Parenting consultations typically involve 2–4 hours of professional services to identify areas of parenting agreement, and/or provide parenting education or, therapeutic dispute resolution. Parents and/or children are interviewed. Reports typically summarize parenting plan agreements and/or recommend additional services, but do not include recommendations for a parenting time schedule.[Page 270]
Options for Parenting Consultation
____Educate parents re: parenting plan options
____Identify parenting plan agreements
____Identify issues for further evaluation
____Assess need for Parenting Coordinator
____Therapeutic dispute resolution
LIMITED FAMILY ASSESSMENT
Limited family assessments (LFAs) typically involve 6–12 hours of professional services. Fewer and more narrowly defined issues are investigated in LFAs. The evaluator limits the amount of time available to family members to present their concerns and what documents are accepted for review. Psychological tests are not typically administered. The number of collateral witnesses is restricted. The LFA report is issue specific. If appointed to conduct an LFA and the evaluator concludes the issues are beyond the scope of an LFA, the evaluator advises the Court and seeks clarification of the appointment.
Options for Limited Family Assessment
____Child maltreatment allegations (e.g., inadvertent/isolated incidents of maltreatment)
____Child interview (e.g., custodial preference and whether preference based on developmentally appropriate reasoning)
____Domestic violence (e.g., occasional instances of push/shove/slap)
____Educational needs of child
____Grandparents' request for access time
____Home study (e.g., safety concerns)
____Mental health and parenting capacity evaluation of one parent (e.g., substance abuse, mood disorder, personality disorder, criminal history)
____Legal custody recommendations (e.g., ability to co-parent)
____Parenting time-share recommendations
____Relationship of child with parents and/or significant others (e.g., siblings, stepparents, grandparents)
____Other referral issues (e.g., stalking; need for parenting supervision; impact of relocation on child; sources of co-parenting conflict; safety concerns; exchange precautions; allegations of coaching)
____Specific information re: above selected issues:[Page 271]
COMPREHENSIVE CUSTODY EVALUATION
Comprehensive custody evaluations (CCEs) typically involve 20+ hour of professional services. CCEs investigate long-standing and broadly based issues of family functioning and parenting capacity. Parents and children are interviewed more than once. Psychological testing is often administered. Parent/child relationships are examined in greater detail than in an LFA. Documents submitted by attorneys are accepted for review, usually without screening by the evaluator. More collateral witnesses are typically contacted than in an LFA and may be interviewed in the office. The report will likely be lengthier than in an LFA and provide a narrative of the family's historical context, parent–child dynamics, assessment of parenting capacity, assessment of the child's developmental needs, and a full range of recommendations addressing custody, a detailed parenting time schedule, and recommended therapeutic interventions, sometimes including treatment goals.
Options for Comprehensive Custody Evaluation
____Child maltreatment allegations (e.g., molestation, abuse, neglect, abandonment)
____Child rejecting a parent (e.g., alienation)
____Coercive control/domestic violence
____Fitness of both parents
____Legal custody recommendations
____Specific Information re: above selected issues or other issues:
- Timely Written Report. The evaluator shall prepare a written report no later than 14 days prior to the next scheduled hearing. The report shall be delivered to the Court and counsel, or the parties, if self-represented, unless the evaluator asserts extraordinary circumstances, such as imminent life threat or the potential for serious harm to a person related to the case. In that event, the Court shall make a ruling regarding dissemination of the report. The acceptance of this appointment by the evaluator indicates a capability of completing a written report in a timely manner and the ability to appear and testify in court upon reasonable notice.
- Initial Contact. Counsel for both parties, or the parties, if self-represented, shall make the initial contact with the evaluator through a joint conference or conference call within 10 days of receipt of this order. The initial conference with the evaluator shall be used to summarize the issues present in this [Page 272]case, to arrange for the initial appointments of the persons the evaluator wishes to examine, and to allow the evaluator to request information he or she believes to be pertinent.
- Authority of Evaluator/Cooperation by Parties/Waiver of Confidentiality. The evaluator shall have the following authority with regard to the minor child(ren) and family members:
- The evaluator shall serve as an expert for the court in order to provide data and opinions relevant to the care of, custody of, and access to the minor child in this case pursuant to applicable Arizona statutes and case law.
- The evaluator shall have reasonable access to the child(ren) and family members with reasonable notice; and shall have reasonable notice of any and all judicial proceedings including requests for any examination affecting the child(ren) and shall be provided copies of all minute entries, orders, and pleadings filed in this case.
- The evaluator shall also have access to:
- All therapists of the child(ren) and parties;
- All school and medical records of the child(ren) and parties;
- Any and all psychological testing or evaluations performed on the child(ren) or the parties;
- Any and all teachers/child care providers for the child(ren).
- At the request of the evaluator, each party shall execute any and all releases or consents necessary to authorize the evaluator's access to the information described herein. No new clinicians (i.e., therapists, psychologists, social workers, etc.) are to work on this case during the course of the evaluation without the consent or authorization of the evaluator, unless otherwise authorized by court order. The services of existing mental health providers may be suspended by the evaluator pending review by the Court.
- The parties are informed that the Court is the identified client of the evaluator in this case. The evaluator serves the Court in this case; therefore, neither the parties nor their child(ren) are patients of the evaluator. There is no confidentiality relating to the parties' communications with or to the evaluator or concerning the evaluator's activities or recommendations. The evaluator may engage in written or verbal communication with any person he or she perceives capable of providing information relevant to the care and welfare of the child.
- The evaluator may request that the parties and/or child(ren) participate in adjunct services, to be provided by third parties, including but [Page 273]not limited to physical or psychological examinations, assessment, psychotherapy, co-parenting work, or alcohol and drug monitoring/testing. The Court shall allocate between the parties the cost of any adjunct service.
- The evaluator shall be promptly provided all records, reports, and documents requested and shall receive the cooperation of all parties and counsel involved to ensure that the report is submitted by the date requested. This Order shall act as a release by the parties of all information requested by the evaluator and shall further obligate the parties for any costs associated with the production of those records to the evaluator. Any such costs shall be paid promptly.
- No Ex Parte Contact. Counsel shall not have substantive ex parte discussions with the evaluator, but shall conduct all communication through conference calls or conferences, unless agreed upon otherwise by all counsel. Copies of any documentation provided by counsel or the parties to the evaluator shall concurrently be sent by the providing person to the other side. Copies shall be sent to counsel if the other side is represented by counsel. The evaluator may have ex parte contact with the Court regarding scheduling matters. This does not prohibit the evaluator from having individual contact with each party in the performance of the evaluation.
- Fees. The evaluator's fee and costs shall be paid___% by Father, and ___% by Mother subject to other and further orders of the Court. Costs shall be paid as directed by evaluator and may be required to be paid prior to the first appointment. In the event any person (including a child) fails to appear at the time of an appointment, the person responsible for the missed appointment shall be obligated to pay any cost associated with the missed appointment.
- Evidence. The written report of the evaluator may be received in evidence without the necessity of any foundation and without any objection to hearsay statements contained therein or any other objection.
- Testimony. Each party shall have the right to call the evaluator as a witness. If only one party believes that the evaluator's live testimony is necessary in addition to the written report, that party shall initially be responsible for 100% of the costs incurred in connection with the evaluator testifying at the court hearing, subject to reallocation by the court if appropriate.
Immunity. The evaluator acts as a quasi-judicial officer in his or her capacity pursuant to this Order, and as such, the evaluator has limited immunity consistent with the Arizona case law applicable to quasi-judicial officers of the Court as to all actions undertaken pursuant to the Court [Page 274]appointment and this Order. Any alleged impropriety or unethical conduct by the evaluator shall be brought to the attention of the Court in writing.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED signing this minute entry as a formal order of this Court pursuant to Rule 81, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.
DONE IN OPEN COURT this date:___
Judge of the Superior Court
Appendix B: Sample Custody Evaluation Informed Consent and Retainer Agreement[Page 275]
(This form is e-mailed to parents and their attorneys before the evaluation begins, and the information in the form is discussed with parents at the start of the evaluation process.)
Thank you for contacting me regarding your child custody evaluation. This contract will explain my procedures for child custody evaluations referred by the court.
I believe that it is in a family's best interests to develop their own postdivorce parenting arrangements, whenever possible. I become part of the process when a family's own attempts to resolve these issues, via mediation or conferences with their attorneys, have reached an impasse. When that occurs, or when the judge orders a child custody evaluation, I am asked to assist the attorneys or the judge in determining the parenting plan that is in your child's best interests. It is my belief, and research shows, that it is best for children when parents can agree on parenting arrangements, and my evaluations are designed to promote resolution of conflicts in this area.Evaluation Procedures
In order to do a thorough evaluation, I will need to know information about each of you. I will be asking you to fill out a comprehensive form regarding yourself, your perceptions of the other parent, and your children. The evaluation includes appointments with both parents, your children, and perhaps other significant adults in your child's life. The interviews may be individual and/or in any combinations and as often as necessary for the purpose of the evaluation. I might do home visits in your evaluation. In general, I do them [Page 276]when one or more of your children are under the age of six or there are specific issues that can be answered only via the observations of a home visit. In addition to the time that I spend with all of you, I often administer psychological testing and parenting questionnaires as part of my evaluation. Pursuant to the court order appointing me as your evaluator, I will also ask you to sign a release of information form, which will provide me with access to medical, school, legal, and other professional information. These releases will give permission to others to provide necessary information to me. All of these steps are designed to give me a complete understanding of you and your family.
During the evaluation, it is common for parents to ask me advice or give interim recommendations. My purpose during the evaluation is to evaluate. Until I am done, I cannot give advice or provide interim recommendations because I don't have all of the data regarding your family. On rare occasions I might give a brief, limited, short-term recommendation and then evaluate your ability to follow through with the suggestion or its impact on the children.
I like to inform parents that you are unlikely to know what I am thinking during the course of the evaluation. I discourage parents from reading into my questions, because they are only designed to give me information and not to give parents a sense of what I am likely to recommend. While I generally give no clue what I am thinking during the evaluation, I try to be very clear on my recommendations, and I try to explain why I believe those recommendations are in your child's best interests when the evaluation is over. Please keep in mind that my role is not to support or substantiate either parent's position; conversely, it is not my role to disparage or denigrate either parent. Additionally, I will be asking many questions and you may feel that I am interrogating rather than interviewing you. In order to perform my court-ordered evaluation, I must be an examiner, not a therapist.Collateral Sources
Many parents ask about my policy regarding collateral contacts. I will generally phone those professionals with whom you have worked and who can give me necessary information about you or your children. Generally, these collateral sources might include teachers, childcare providers, law enforcement officers, pediatricians and other medical doctors, and therapists. I can also include others as well. If you have been ordered to participate in drug testing or anger management, I will likely be in contact with those sources. It is rare for me to interview all collateral parties that are suggested. I usually phone only those professional collateral sources I believe will add information to my evaluation. If you have one or two collateral sources that you believe are crucial to my evaluation, please let me know. Please note that I inform all collateral sources that the content of all interviews may be included in my written evaluation report, and I may be required to testify about these contacts in court.[Page 277]
It is rare for me to interview friends or relatives, each of whom is often partial to one of the parents. I encourage you to get letters from friends and/or relatives that you believe might have pertinent information. I reserve the right to contact any of those persons if I need clarification of any written information given to me, and your signature below authorizes me to contact any such relevant nonprofessional parties.Confidentiality
Many parents ask about confidentiality in a child custody evaluation. Quite simply, within the process, there is no confidentiality. I may share information that one parent tells me with the other parent or ask one of you questions about what I hear from a parent, child, or any collateral source. I may ask your children about things that I hear from either of you. I will inform your children that their statements may not be confidential, though I may inform you, your attorneys, and the court if I believe it is in your child's interest to protect that confidentiality. I will inform all collateral witnesses that there is no confidentiality in the process. This protects your due process rights and ensures that I can gather necessary information for my evaluation. It is understood that I will be providing the court, Family Court Services, and the attorney(s) with a written report of my child custody evaluation. In addition, after I have completed my evaluation report and sent it to the attorneys and the court, my entire file, including all notes, psychological test data, and anything else in my file, could be made available to the attorneys and the court upon a legitimate request by any of the parties.
Additionally, please note that California state law requires reporting to the appropriate agencies where there is reasonable suspicion of child abuse, elder abuse, stated intention to injure another person, and/or imminent danger of harming yourself or inability to care for yourself. Please keep in mind that I do not provide any psychological services other than this court-ordered evaluation, including emergency services, to individuals whom I am evaluating. If an emergency arises, assistance should be sought through the police, the nearest hospital, or your attorney.
Both attorneys and parents are invited to send me any written materials that they think will be useful. I accept documents only via fax or mail to the fax number or mailing address noted in my letterhead or at regularly scheduled appointments in my office. Please do not give me materials at home visits, and do not make any unscheduled visits to my office in order to deliver documents. Please do not give me originals, and please note that I do not make copies of this material for your attorney or the other side. I must retain any items that are presented to me for my consideration. Also please note that the court order appointing me as your evaluator requires that copies of any materials sent to me must also be provided to the other parent or his or her legal representative. With that in mind, I will not accept any documents [Page 278]without written assurance that documents submitted for my review have been provided to the other party.Fees
My fee for conducting this evaluation is $___. This fee covers all interview time, home visits (if there are any), time spent phoning parents and collateral sources and/or reviewing written material, scoring psychological tests and parenting inventories, writing the evaluation report, and any other time spent in association with the evaluation. All fees are to be paid by the first session of the evaluation unless other arrangements have been made. The percentage of the fee paid by each parent is determined by your court order. Payment must be made by cash, check, or credit card. In the event that I have agreed to partial payment at the start of the evaluation, full payment must be made within 2 weeks. In the event that full payment is not received by that time, the evaluation process will be halted and will not continue until all fees are paid. In the rare event that I spend significantly more time than anticipated, I will inform you of any further charges. I understand that the fee for this evaluation is to pay for a legal and not a health-related procedure. No claims for health insurance reimbursement will be completed by this evaluator.
My fee does not include court appearances or depositions. If either party wishes me to testify, I require a subpoena for court testimony or deposition. If the testimony will be by phone, my fee for phone testimony is based on $_per hour and should be paid a week in advance. If I need to travel for testifying at court or for a deposition, I charge a minimum of $ per half day (or less) or $___per full day. I charge for travel time to/from the deposition or trial and time involved in preparation for the deposition or court appearance. I require payment for such appearances at least one week before the court date or deposition. All fees are the responsibility of the party issuing the subpoena. My standard evaluation fee does include being available on phone standby for the court at Recommendation Conferences, provided I can arrange to make the time available.
At least 24-hour notice is required to cancel or reschedule an appointment without being charged. Without 24-hour notice, the parent who misses the appointment may be billed an additional $ per appointment hour. If both parents miss a joint appointment, each will be billed for half of the scheduled time. Excessive missed appointments can result in termination of the evaluation with notification to the court of what portion of the evaluation has been completed.Recommendations
On my custody evaluation form, I will ask each of you how you would suggest settling your dispute with the other parent. It is possible that I might [Page 279]agree with you when I have completed my evaluation. It is also possible that I may disagree with you and recommend something closer to what the other parent wants. Please be aware that whatever I recommend, it will always be based on my analysis of all of the evaluation data and what I believe to be in your child(ren)'s best interests.
In move-away cases, it is important to note that I might not even make a specific recommendation, because relocation issues are driven by legal issues and factors. It is my job to evaluate the family and provide the evaluation data and my analysis of the data to the court. In move-away cases, there are many factors that converge before a decision can be made. I will certainly provide my analysis of the relevant factors that the California statutory and case law demand, as well as any other relevant psychological factors to be considered. However, it is the judge's job to give weighting to those factors and in a move-away case, it is often impossible for me to make as clear a recommendation as I might in other custody evaluations. It is not uncommon for me to describe my analysis of all relevant factors and then suggest a set of recommendations based on the potential weighting of the court. As such, if the court weighs certain factors as more relevant than certain other factors, I might recommend in one direction, but if the court weighs certain other factors as more relevant, I might recommend in the other direction. This ensures that I do my job (i.e., evaluate and analyze data and factors) while encouraging and supporting the judge to do his or her job (i.e., weigh those factors and reach a decision).
At the end of the evaluation process, I will send my written report to the court, to Family Court Services, and to the attorneys. If a parent is self-represented, I will send the report directly to that parent. Following the completion and submission of the report, I can no longer have contact with you. It is unethical of me to perform additional roles with your family after completing my evaluation. I am willing to confer with the attorneys if such a conference is desired by all involved and not objected to by the court. Be aware that the custodial dispute may not be resolved with the issuance of my report, as my report is advisory only and the court is not obligated to accept my recommendations.
If your case does not settle after completion of my report, please note that unless directed otherwise by the court, all items in my case file will be subject to examination by both parties, their attorneys, the attorney for the child(ren), and any expert(s) who may have been retained by counsel for either party. If there is a trial and if you request that I testify, it is important that you understand my obligations as an evaluator and as a testifying expert. I am obligated to maintain my impartiality and openness to new information throughout the course of the evaluation and during the trial. I am prohibited by state rules from having ex parte communications with one side, nor can I help in trial preparation with only one side. Though it is more likely than not that testimony offered by me will explain and be supportive of the contents of my report, no assurances can be made that this will be the case. Regardless of the questions asked, I will, of course, respond honestly. I will not be an [Page 280]advocate for the person who seeks my testimony. I will answer all questions regarding each parent's strengths and weaknesses. All fees for my testimony are directly related to my time in preparation, travel, and testifying, and not for any particular testimony.Settlement Prior to Conclusion or Early Termination of Evaluation
If at any time during the course of the evaluation parents settle their custody or visitation dispute on their own, or jointly agree, with the court's consent to the early termination of the evaluation, it will be discontinued, and the court will be so notified. If I have been paid a fee that exceeds the time I have spent (billed at $_____ per hour), I will refund any amount due at the end of the month following my receipt of a written statement that the evaluation has been halted. If at any point in the future either parent wishes to resume the evaluation process, a new evaluation will need to be ordered and new fees will need to be paid.Consent
By my signature below, I acknowledge that I have been encouraged to review this document with my attorney. I have read and I understand all of the terms within this contract and agree to abide it. I understand that Philip M. Stahl, PhD, is an independent practitioner and that this contract is only with him, not any other entity or individual. I authorize Dr. Stahl to complete the evaluation and provide recommendations to the court.
Signed: ___ Date:___
Witness: ___ Date:___
Please Make a Copy of This Contract for Your Own Records!
Appendix C: Sample Custody Evaluation Face Sheet[Page 281]
Name:___Birthdate:___D.L. #___S.S. #___
Home Phone:___Work Phone:___
Reason for Referral: Custody:___Visitation:___Court Case #:___
Referred by Whom:___Phone:___
Other Parent's Name:___Birthdate:___Phone:___S.S. #___
Address:_____ City:_____ State:_____ Zip:_____
Children: Name____Birthdate____School/Grade____Current Living Arrangement
Others Living In Home Age Relationship/Status
Date of Marriage:___Separation:___Date Divorce Filed:___
Who Filed:___Date of Divorce (If Applicable):___
Date of Remarriage (If Applicable)___
COURT ACTION: (USE BACK IF NECESSARY)
I. Date:___Initiated by? Father:___Mother:___Reason:___
II. Date: ___ Initiated by? Father:_____ Mother:_____ Reason:_____
III. Date:_ Initiated by? Father:_____ Mother:_____ Reason:_____
Any prior arrests for anyone in the family? No___Yes___Describe (include dates and jurisdiction):
List names, addresses, and phone numbers for current or former therapists or substance abuse detection or treatment for you or anyone in your family?
List professional references you would like contacted as part of this evaluation (in order of importance):
Name Relationship (e.g., teacher/doctor) Phone Number
Number of Previous Marriages
Father:___ Dates(s) of Marriage(s):___ Divorce:___# Kids:___
Mother:___Dates(s) of Marriage(s):___Divorce:___# Kids:___
Employment History: (List Most Recent First)
Previous Mediation/Evaluation?: Yes:___No:___Date(s) Seen:___
Name of Mediator/Evaluator:___ Phone:_____
Who cares for your children when you aren't at home?___Phone:___
Concerns about domestic violence? No Yes Describe:
Were these concerns ever reported? No___ Yes___ To Whom:___
Concerns about neglect or sexual or physical abuse or the safety of your children? No___ Yes_____[Page 284]
Were these concerns ever reported? No _____ Yes _____ To Whom:_____
Concerns about substance abuse or alcohol problems? No _____ Yes_____
Were these concerns ever reported? No _____ Yes _____ To Whom:_____
Please describe your child(ren)—include information on special needs:
Please describe your relationship with your child(ren):
Please describe the other parent's relationship with your child(ren):
Please describe your style of parenting:
Please describe the other parent's style of parenting:
How do you discipline your child(ren)?
How does the other parent discipline your child(ren)?
Please describe your strengths as a parent:
Please describe your weaknesses as a parent:
Please describe the other parent's strengths as a parent:
Please describe the other parent's weaknesses as a parent:
What will the other parent say about you?
Please describe the communication between you and the other parent:
Please describe your involvement in your child's activities, both past and present (include extracurricular activities, school events, medical and dental appointments, etc.):
Who pays for these activities and do you have problems agreeing on them?
How do you and the other parent support your child's education?
Please describe your current timeshare, including days and times of exchange, who provides transportation, and a details of the holiday and vacation schedule:
Please describe your current work hours, when you would need daycare, and who would provide daycare under your proposed schedule:
Do you feel that the schedule needs to be different for different children (if applicable)? Please explain:
How would you recommend sharing the parenting with the other parent?
Any other comments/questions (use back of form, if necessary):
I have read and understand the attached informed consent form and authorize Dr. Stahl to evaluate me and my children and assist the court in determining the parenting plan which will be in the best interests of my children.
Appendix D: Sample List of Questions to Ask Children[Page 291]
Do you know my name? Why are you here? Do you know what I do (what psychologists do)? What did your mom (dad) tell you about me? How do you feel about being here?
These are the first questions I ask children and they are used to break the ice, provide them with some information about me and what they are here for, and to begin to understand whether their parents have been open with them or given them propaganda about the evaluation. I am quite suspect when I hear in the first few moments statements about custody (e.g. “I want to live with my mom”), especially when asking these quite general questions.
Where do you go to school? What grade are you in? How are your grades? What do you like (dislike) about school?
Gets the focus off of the divorce, turning it onto the child's own life.
Who is your best friend? Tell me something about your friends. What do you like to do with your friends?
Same as above.
What are some of your favorite activities? Do you play any sports (music)? What are some things that you love to do? What are some things that you sometimes have to do that you don't like doing? Do you have any favorite video games (TV shows, movies, etc.)?
Same as above.[Page 292]
Who gets you up in the morning? Who else is up then? How do you get breakfast? How do you get ready for school? How do you get to school?
Basic questions about the morning routine.
How do you get home from school? What do you usually do after school? When do you do your homework? Who helps you (or supervises) with your homework?
Basic questions about the after-school routine.
What time is dinner? Who fixes dinner? Where do you eat dinner and with whom?
Basic questions about the evening routine.
What time is bedtime? What do you do to get ready for bed? Does anyone read to you at bedtime?
Basic questions about the bedtime routine.
Do you know what divorce means? How do you feel about your parents' divorce?
Gives a clue about the child's understanding of divorce, how much parents or friends talk about divorce, and begins our understanding of the child's feelings about his or her parents' divorce
Tell me something you like (don't like) about mom (dad).
Gives a clue to the child's ability to talk openly about feelings toward each of the parents; very important in our understanding of the nature of the child's splitting, if any.
Who do you talk to when you get scared (worried, happy, etc.)?
Gives a clue to the emotional connectedness of the child with either parent, and/or other people in the child's life.
How do you know when mom (dad) is mad/sad/worried/happy?
Gives a clue to how parents express their feelings.
What does your mom (dad) do to help with homework?
Gives a clue to the parent–child relationships.
What happens when you get mad at your mom (dad)?
Same as above.[Page 293]
What does mom (dad) do when she gets mad at you?
Same as above.
What kinds of punishments does mom (dad) use?
Same as above.
How do you feel when mom says bad things about dad (& vice versa)?
Gives a good clue about how the child handles angry parents and loyalty conflicts. My question assumes that this goes on. In those instances when it does not, the children are quick to tell me so.
How do your parents treat/feel about each other?
Similar to above; also gives a clue to how much the child sees of the parental stress or animosity.
If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?
Gives me an opportunity to assess self-esteem, fantasy life, and other inner feelings of the child.
If you could have three wishes for anything in the world, what would you wish for?
Same as above.
If there was one thing you could change about mom (dad), what would it be? (After the answer—anything else you'd like to change?)
Gives a further clue to the parent–child relationship (asked again when seen conjointly with mom (dad).
How do you like to spend your time with mom (dad)?
Same as above (asked again when seen conjointly with mom (dad).
Do you and mom (dad) have any favorite things to do together?
Same as above (asked again when seen conjointly with mom (dad).
What ideas do you have about how to split your time with mom and dad?
Gives a clue to the child's thoughts about this question, without asking who they want to live with. Especially useful for older latency, preadolescent, and adolescent children who have their own thoughts and ideas and may want the evaluator to hear them.[Page 294]
For young children, I tend to ask them fewer questions, and observe them more in their play. I use a dollhouse to set up various situations and encourage their interaction. By observing their affect and their play responses, I get a clue to parental availability and emotionality.
If there are siblings, I ask similar questions about sibling relationships and differences in their perceptions of how the parents treat each of them, and questions to understand how much support the siblings provide one another.
In addition to the questions that I ask children and parents when seen together, I often encourage them to engage in an activity together (such as play with Legos, draw a picture, play a board game, or some other task). This gives me a chance to directly see their one-on-one interaction and support of one another, as well as the parent's level of directiveness or freedom toward the child. Sometimes I see parents who claim to be active participants with their child who have little idea how to freely interact with their child in my office. While doing all of this, I look for clues to the affection between the parent and child, and how much their interaction resembles what both parents and child have been telling me.
Appendix E: Sample List of Questions to Ask Parents[Page 295]
General Questions During the Evaluation:
“Why are we here?” Used to generate discussion about all of the issues, especially the conflict between the parents. In almost all evaluations, it is the first question I ask parents in the initial individual interview. From that single question, I find myself asking other leading questions based on the information that I hear. Sometimes in the first interview, there is no other formal question asked, as I take the answers from the parent and go where they lead me.
“What was your marriage like before the problems began?” Gets the parents talking about their historical relationship with the ex-spouse. Gives an opportunity to find out if there were times of peace before the discord, and to find out when things started to go awry.
“Tell me about your children.” Obviously, used to begin talking about the children. I often ask this question in the middle of complaining about the other parent—in this context, used to see if the parent can stop talking about flaws in the other parent. Look for changes in affect, for example, does the parent smile more and relax when talking about the children, or stay angry and demeaning?
“What do you like about___(other parent)?” Again, often used to see if the parent can focus on anything positive about the other parent.
“How does your arguing with ___ (other parent) affect ___ (child)?” Gives a clue to parent's ability to understand the effects of the couple's conflict on the children.
“How do you suppose your feelings about___ (other parent) affect your child?” Provides sense of ability for insight into this issue.[Page 296]
“Given what you say, I don't understand why you stayed married to ___(other parent).” Used to confront some of the issues being raised. See if the parent can accept any responsibility for problems between them.
“What do you sometimes do to contribute to the problems between you and ___(other parent)?” Same as above.
Questions Regarding Parent–Child Relationship and Parenting Strengths and Weaknesses
“What does___ (child) need?” Gives overview of parent's ability to conceptualize and verbalize his or her child's many needs, including the need for a relationship with the other parent. I try to use the answer to that question to confront something that I have heard in other interviews, especially with parents who tend to idealize themselves or their children. Useful in determining which parents truly understand children and their needs as opposed to those parents who want to control, hurt, or punish the other parent by taking the child away from him or her. Pay special attention to parents who answer this question by staying focused on the negative qualities of the other parent rather than their own positive understanding of the children.
“What gives you pleasure as a parent?” Gives a clue about how parent benefits from relationship with children.
“What were your mother's (father's) good qualities as a parent?” Gives a clue to the feelings associated with the parenting that each parent received and some insight into the relationship between the parenting we received and the parenting that we give.
“What were your mother's (father's) bad qualities as a parent?” Same as above.
“Tell me about (describe) your children.” As before, look for affective indicators of joy in the parent–child relationship.
“Tell me about a typical day when the children are with you.” Helps me understand the structure a parent follows, if there are typical times for meals, bedtime, rules, and so forth.
“What are some things you would like to change about___(child)?” Helps find out about relationship with child, openness regarding problems, or idealization of the child, a sign of defensiveness.
“What are some of your rules that___ (child) doesn't like?” Same as above.
“How do you discipline___(child)?” Same as above.
“What can you do to make things better for___ (child)?” Same as above.[Page 297]
“What would you like to change as a parent?” Gives a clue to parents' willingness to look inward regarding their flaws.
“What concerns, if any, do you have about the other parent's relationship with ___(child)?” Gives the parent an opportunity to express his or her concerns.
“What can___ (other parent) do to satisfy those concerns?” Gives a clue to parent's ability to view the other parent as capable of growth and change.
“What will___ (child) need in five (ten) years?” Gives a clue to parent's ability to look forward to the future developmental changes of his or her child.
“How is ___ (child's) health?” Obvious.
“What are your child's favorite activities and interests?” Gives a clue to parent's knowledge of child's activities and interests. Used to compare what parents say about the child with child's own description of favorite activities and interests.
“What makes ___ (child) feel sad (happy, excited, scared, worried, etc.)?” Gives a clue to parent's ability to understand child's feelings and respond on a feeling level with the child.
“What are your child's favorite foods? What is the bath-time routine in your house? What is the bedtime routine in your house? Where does your child sleep? Tell me about your child's early development. Were there any problems with toilet training? Does your child have any speech problems or show other signs of regression or anxiety? Has your child started to play with friends?” These are typical of the questions I ask parents of children of preschool age in order to understand their ability to deal with age-appropriate issues.
“How does your child like school (his or her teachers)? How does your child get along with his (her) peers? How does your child express himself (herself) if he's (she's) angry? Is your child afraid to be alone for a short time? Does your child have nightmares or other signs of emotional distress? Has your child started to sleep over at friend's houses? How does your child follow rules (deal with authority)?” These are typical of the questions I ask parents of school-age children in order to understand their ability to deal with age-appropriate issues.
“How does your child deal with authority? Do you think your child is excited (afraid) to get more independent? Does your child push your rules and limits very much? Is your child open to talking with you about sex (drugs, peers, school, etc.)? Is your child responsible for her (his) age? Does your child have any ideas what she (he) will do when she (he) is finished with high school? Does your child have a job outside the home?” These are typical of the questions I ask parents of adolescents in order to understand their ability to deal with age-appropriate issues.[Page 298]
Questions About the Co-Parenting Relationship:
“How do you and ___(other parent) make decisions about school (doctors, vacations, religious training, etc.)?” Explores the ability to make joint decisions, or not, between the parents on behalf of the children.
“When you were married, how did you make decisions about school (doctors, vacations, religious training, etc.)?” Explores any change in the co-parenting relationship from when they were married.
“How are the rules in your household the same (or different) from the rules in ___ (other parent's) household?” Gives clue to the way in which the parents are aware of the style of parenting in the other parent's household, and whether there are major differences that the child must encounter during transitions.
“How do you communicate with___ (other parent) / When you try and talk with ___ (other parent) about___ (child), what happens?” Gives a clue to the quality of the communication between parents.
“If you have school or medical information for___ (other parent) about ___(child), how does it get to him (her)?” Gives a clue to the style of sharing information (over the phone, in writing, through the child, or not at all).
“How does___(child) treat you in front of___(other parent)–” Gives a clue to quality of the child's loyalty conflicts when the parents are together.
“Who attends___ (child's) events, and how does ____ (child) deal with it when you and ___ (other parent) are at the same event?” Same as above.
From material I have heard from the other parent or the children, I will always ask questions to confront things I have heard from each parent. This is critical in my understanding of “truth” for the family.
“What can you do to help disengage from ___ (other parent) to help your children?” A good clue for how each parent understands this necessary step for ending the conflict.
“What can you do to share in the parenting with ___ (other parent) more cooperatively?” A good clue for how each parent understands this next step in cooperative parenting.
Finally, at the end of my last interview, I always ask the following:
“We've talked about a lot of things. Is there anything else you want me to know, or is there anything you would like to ask me?” Gives parents a last opportunity to make sure I know everything that is important to them, and to ask me questions that are in their mind. For those parents who are extremely critical, it usually gives them one last time to criticize the other parent. For those who are child-focused, it gives them a last opportunity to express feelings and thoughts about their children and their needs.
Appendix F: Sample Alienation Analysis and Recommendations[Page 299]Special Issues for the Court
There are no allegations of domestic violence in this case.
There are no allegations of substance abuse in this case.
Mental Health Problems
As noted above, neither parent has significant mental health problems, yet each of their psychological functioning does contribute to the difficulties being experienced in this matter. These issues will be integrated into the discussion below.
Interference With Other Parent's Access
Dr. Smith believes that Ms. Jones interferes with and doesn't support his relationships with Katie and Julie. While he does not believe that she does so maliciously and overtly, he believes that Ms. Jones has significant emotional problems which interfere with her ability to actually support his relationships with the girls. This will be discussed in greater detail in the section below.Summary, Analysis, and Recommendations
The data gathered in this evaluation reveals certain consistent findings. Dr. Smith and Ms. Jones had a marriage that was both highly functional and moderately dysfunctional at the same time. It was functional in that both Dr. Smith and Ms. Jones had their respective roles and each of them performed those roles [Page 300]exceptionally well. From all appearances, Dr. Smith is a very good physician who works hard and has always supported the family financially. Ms. Jones is a very good mother who has done the tasks of parenting excellently. She even continues to work part-time in Dr. Smith's office, even after their separation, something that is rare in families going through moderate to high conflict. Within that functional family, the girls have succeeded, academically, socially, psychologically, and within their chosen extracurricular activities.
At the same time, there has been a dysfunctional component to the family, as well. Dr. Smith and Ms. Jones didn't communicate. Dr. Smith had little patience for Ms. Jones and the girls at times, and the girls and Ms. Jones were extremely close. At the same time, the girls and Dr. Smith grew increasingly distant in their relationships. Dr. Smith correctly recalls instances in which he was there for the girls and they did things together, but gradually he was growing more distant from everyone in the family. Dr. Smith grew increasingly depressed and isolated within the family. While he felt that this was due to a lack of communication with Ms. Jones, which was certainly true, it is also clear that he felt distant and isolated from the girls, as well. At the same time, there was little communication between anyone in this family about their feelings. According to Dr. Smith, no one knew that Julie didn't like competitive soccer until she finally gave it up. She thought her parents wanted her to play, and they thought Julie wanted to play. Lacking healthy communication, Julie played for several years without being happy about it. Similarly, there was little discussion or communication between Dr. Smith and Ms. Jones about feelings in their relationship. Ms. Jones, to this day, doesn't understand what Dr. Smith was feeling in the marriage, and this evaluator believes that she didn't really want to know what he felt. This is part of their dynamic, but it filters down to their daughters.
Within this backdrop, Dr. Smith went into therapy, hoping to work on the marital issues. However, Ms. Jones wasn't interested in participating, and Dr. Smith grew even more detached and lonely. He was torn about leaving Ms. Jones, worrying about the impact on the girls. Since he always perceived that Julie was a bit emotionally fragile, he waited until she left home after high school. He was pleased that she was doing well. He was less concerned about Katie, whom he correctly perceived as highly functioning. However, he wasn't aware of Katie's underlying negative feelings toward him, again because of the history of poor family communication. He decided that for his own well-being, he needed to leave Ms. Jones. He and Katie worked out an agreement in which he would continue to see her once a week in the evening where they could continue their consistent and positive routine. He fully expected that he and Katie would build their own, independent relationship after the separation.
Unfortunately, Katie had little patience for her father. He missed a couple of those Friday night visits and she became angry. Ms. Jones told Dr. Smith that Katie wasn't interested in seeing him, and for several months, there was little or no contact between Dr. Smith and Katie. Ms. Jones and Dr. Smith [Page 301]went to mediation and reached some limited agreement on what to do. Included in that agreement was some therapy for Katie and her father. Katie approached the therapy much the same as Ms. Jones did when Dr. Smith wanted Ms. Jones to work on the marital issues. In other words, she wasn't interested. Katie did talk with Dr. Smith about her frustrations and their origins, but by and large, was unable and unwilling to warm up to him. By the time they went back to mediation last December, Katie was saying she wanted to stop therapy and Dr. Smith was frustrated that their relationship had not progressed any further.
At that point, Dr. Smith couldn't accept that he and Katie would have limited time together. While expressing an understanding of her busy schedule, Dr. Smith wanted her to spend more time with him, and would really like to be a more actively involved father, the kind of father who would have Katie spend some time at his home. Katie has expressed no willingness to do any of that. This impasse led Dr. Smith to make a calculated decision. While being concerned that requesting the § 730 evaluation might make things worse, he decided to seek the evaluation to try and better understand what was occurring and try and get Ms. Jones to take some responsibility for her contribution to Katie's refusal to see him. However, this has backfired, as Katie blames him for the intrusions which this evaluation has caused and has been even less willing to see him than before.
With this backdrop, it's important to discuss the context in which this evaluator believes that these dynamics have occurred. Each participant has some contribution to Katie's refusal to see her father. In this evaluator's opinion, Dr. Smith's contribution lies largely in his rigidity, his tendency to reject Katie's feelings toward him, and his continued efforts to force a different solution. To his credit, he hasn't just walked away, largely because he loves Katie and wants a different kind of relationship with her. Additionally, even though he has trouble looking inward to see his own role in problems, he expresses a desire to understand his contribution to the problems with Katie and will work to try and redeem himself if he can.
Ms. Jones's contribution is her apparent lack of insight into emotions and her lack of ability to communicate with Dr. Smith over the years. She has always supported Katie, which is a positive in her role as Katie's mother, though it interferes in Dr. Smith's efforts to improve things with Katie because she doesn't take a stronger position with Katie [and Julie] in supporting their role with their father. To her credit, she does a wonderful job with Katie in all other aspects of Katie's life.
Finally, we need to understand Katie's role in the problems. Quite simply, she, like Ms. Jones, doesn't like to communicate or focus on her feelings. Like Dr. Smith, she tends to be stubborn and rigid. She is currently unforgiving, something that is not psychologically healthy for her. She is regressed defensively, in that she is currently splitting her parents into all good (her mother) and all bad (her father), regardless of the history which was not as negative as she currently states. Additionally, she is overly focused on anything she [Page 302]perceives as negative about her father, refusing to acknowledge or give him credit for his efforts at trying to have a relationship with and be a father to her. At the same time, she has a very busy life, with school and academically tough classes, competitive swimming, and a desire to spend time with friends. This doesn't leave much time for anything else in her life, including either of her parents.
Finding a solution to this situation will not be easy. The easiest solution is unlikely to occur, that is, for Katie to warm up to her father's efforts, recognize that he loves her and simply wants a relationship with her, and talk with each other and/or mediate how they can spend time together. As long as Katie remains rigidly unforgiving, this won't happen. A second solution would be for Dr. Smith to back away and allow Katie some space, with the hope that she, on her own volition, misses and wants to see her father. Given that Katie is 16 years old, is very busy in her life, and wants her father to only see her when she wants them to get together, such a plan could make sense. Unfortunately, that may spell the end of their relationship, as there is no evidence that Katie will willingly invite her father back into her life. A third possible solution, therapy for Katie and her dad, has already been tried and was unsuccessful. Given Katie's current level of animosity and unwillingness to budge, renewed efforts in therapy are likely going to fail. Fourth, family therapy, in which Ms. Jones, Dr. Smith, and Katie all attend therapy together, might be useful, but the most likely outcome of that is that Katie blames her father for being forced into it, Ms. Jones continues her detachment of emotions, and Dr. Smith becomes increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress.
There is a new effort being considered for families with such dynamics. A weeklong, therapeutic summer camp has been successful for many of the families who attend. This program, titled Overcoming Barriers, is relatively new, takes place in the northeastern United States, and seems promising. However, this would not be available for this family until next summer, and Katie has rejected consideration of this program when discussed in one of our interviews. Nonetheless, this program might help provide some improvement if things don't progress in a positive fashion over the next year.
A final option is for Dr. Smith to acknowledge to Katie that he accepts her negative feelings and begin to detach from his strong efforts to forge a relationship with her. Even if he does this, I'd recommend some level of contact between them, via phone and regular face-to-face meetings. Katie has followed court orders, albeit with some resistance, so continuing a court order that requires some time together is advisable. Within that context, they could get together on regular Friday nights and resume their routine together there. They could meet for occasional Saturday morning breakfasts (once or twice per month), Dr. Smith could come to Katie's swim activities, and Dr. Smith could invite her to basketball games or other such events that he likes to attend.
Ms. Jones should keep Dr. Smith informed about Katie's activities, swim schedule, and academics. Katie should know that Ms. Jones is informing Dr. Smith of these events in her life and that both of her parents are in agreement with this plan. To help facilitate this arrangement, Katie and Dr. Smith [Page 303]could go together to mediation on a monthly basis simply to talk about how they'll redefine their relationship and what activities they want to do together. In this evaluator's view, this option has the best chance of success since it keeps Dr. Smith connecting with Katie, yet gives Katie more power in their relationship. If things improve sufficiently over the next 6 months, I would recommend that this be all that happens, but if not, I would recommend consideration of the Overcoming Barriers camp program for a week next summer.
Given the above, I offer the following recommendations:
- To clarify the recommendation noted above, I would urge the following take place:
- Dr. Smith and Katie to meet with a mediator, perhaps Dr. Thornton, once per month to discuss the parameters of their relationship. It would be best if Dr. Smith were to convey to Katie that he will accept less time and involvement than he wants, as long as they do some things together. He certainly needs to convey that he is giving up his hope that Katie will spend time with him at his residence, unless Katie decides she wants to spend time with him there, perhaps a minimum of one Friday overnight per month. It would be ideal if Katie would be forgiving of Dr. Smith.
- At a minimum, Dr. Smith and Katie should resume their Friday night routine at least twice per month. The particular Fridays could be agreed upon in the mediation between Katie and Dr. Smith. If they cannot agree, this should be rigidly kept as the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month.
- Also at a minimum, Dr. Smith and Katie should get together for breakfast for a minimum of 2 hours on Saturday mornings twice per month. Again, the particulars of this could hopefully be worked out during mediation. Again, if they can't agree, this should be rigidly kept as the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month.
- Ideally, Dr. Smith and Katie can talk on the phone twice per week for at least 10 minutes per call. Again, they could discuss this during their mediation, but I would encourage the calls to occur the night before their time together, that is, every other Thursday before the Friday routine and every other Friday before the Saturday breakfast.
- If Dr. Smith and Katie can agree on any other events to do together, that would be ideal. As noted above, this could include Phoenix Suns games, a day trip for boating or some other such activity, or any other activity that Dr. Smith and Katie can agree upon.
- Dr. Smith needs to know about Katie's swim schedule and be given the opportunity to attend events and competitions.
- As noted above, Dr. Smith and Ms. Jones need to talk once per week about Katie and Julie and their functioning and activities. It would be ideal if they could do this in the office of a co-parent counselor who could encourage healthy and positive communication about Katie and Julie. Again, it would be ideal if Katie and Julie knew that their parents were talking with one another about them and their well-being.
- I would encourage Dr. Smith to continue his therapy to stay focused on improving his empathy for Katie and her experiences. I'd recommend that Ms. Jones be in therapy, except that she is not a very good candidate for therapy. Her attitudes are just as critical as Dr. Smith's and Katie's, so her participation in therapy is essential. She needs to learn what she can do to promote Katie's relationship improvements with Dr. Smith rather than leaving it totally up to Dr. Smith.
- I would recommend the appointment of a Parent Coordinator to coordinate the therapies and be sure that things are progressing along a positive path. If they falter, the PC could begin the process of coordinating referral to the Overcoming Barriers program next summer.
- If things are progressing reasonably well and Katie is treating Dr. Smith more positively, I would encourage that this simply continue with no changes, other than those that Dr. Smith and Katie agree to. However, if Katie remains resistant to even this limited time with Dr. Smith, and things don't improve within the family, I would recommend that the family attend the Overcoming Barriers program next summer.
Thank you for allowing me to be of assistance with this family.
Appendix G: Sample Relocation Analysis and Recommendations[Page 305]Special Issues for the Court
This is not an issue in this matter.
There are no allegations of substance abuse in this case.
Mental Health Problems
Neither parent appears to have any particular mental health problems.
Interference With Other Parent's Access
This is not an issue in this matter.
Relocation issues will be discussed in the section below.Summary, Analysis, and Recommendations
As noted above, the only reason this case has come for an evaluation is because of the relocation-related issues. For job reasons, Ms. Green and her husband have moved to Tennessee. They have a new baby, Ms. Green is pregnant, and they have a home. Ms. Green misses Sophia tremendously and wants her to be a larger part of her family. In contrast, Mr. Brown did not move and sees no reason why his relationship with Sophia should suffer simply because Ms. Green decided to move.
As with many evaluations, there are a few things we do not know. Both parents claim that they were primary parents during the time when Ms. Green [Page 306]was sick. In some ways, it does not matter now, as that was many years ago and subsequent to that time, both shared custody of Sophia relatively equally for many years until Ms. Green moved. This evaluator did not talk with Sophia's teacher, who was unavailable, but no one suggested that Sophia had any particular problems in school. As noted above, Sophia is delightful, yet at her age, she does not voice a particular preference as to where to live, in spite of Ms. Green's belief that Sophia wants to live with her.
In considering the rest of the issues in this evaluation, I have listed many questions that are useful for consideration in move-away evaluations. Some of these answer relevant questions that must always be considered and others are relevant in the post-LaMusga era in California. These questions, and my responses to each, follow.
A move typically leads to greater instability and change. How can we expect Sophia to deal with these changes in her life?
As noted above, Ms. Green has already moved. Sophia misses her mother. It is expected that if Sophia were to move to be in the primary care of her mother, Sophia will then miss her father. Sophia appears to be fairly adaptable and will likely adapt to significant changes without problems.
Is the move representative of stability or a pattern of instability on the part of the moving parent?
There is no evidence that this is about instability on the part of Ms. Green.
Are there concerns about the mental health of the moving parent and whether or not Ms. Green will facilitate a positive relationship between Sophia and her father over time?
Does Sophia have any special needs, siblings, activities, or friends that will be affected by the move?
The siblings are in Ms. Green's home, so moving will allow her greater opportunities to grow in those relationships.
What have been the actual custodial arrangements, how have they been working, and what are the problems?
Prior to Ms. Green and her husband's move, Mr. Brown and Ms. Green shared custody reasonably well and relatively equally. There were no significant problems, other than difficulty in the communication between them.
Are there concerns about restrictive gatekeeping?
Ms. Green and her husband tend to have relatively negative views of Mr. Brown and highlight their own positive attributes while highlighting his negative attributes. This is consistent with many custody litigants. If that translates into later restrictive gatekeeping, that could be an issue, but there is no clear evidence that this will be a problem in this matter. Similarly, there is no evidence that Mr. Brown is a restrictive gatekeeping parent.[Page 307]
Are there differences in social capital in either parent's location?
There is clearly more family in Tennessee than in California. In California, Sophia has her father, friends, and her father's current girlfriend and her son. There are no other relatives in California. In contrast, in Tennessee, there is Ms. Green and her husband, their daughter Amy, friends, and relatives of Ms. Green's nearby. Additionally, Ms. Green is pregnant again, so there will be another sibling along the way soon. This would suggest the probability of greater social capital in mother's location.
Among the post-LaMusga factors that the court would ordinarily consider when deciding whether to modify a custody order in light of the custodial parent's proposal to change the residence of the child are the following:
Is there some type of detriment to Sophia moving?
Sophia is in a bind regardless of where she lives. If she remains in California, she misses her mother, her stepfather, and her sister. If she moves to Tennessee, she will miss her father. Detriment will exist simply by virtue of the fact that Ms. Green has moved, regardless of how legitimate the move was.
Does Sophia have an interest in stability and continuity of the custodial arrangement?
There is some validity to continuing in California, as she will not have to make new friends or go to new schools. However, Mr. Brown may be leaving the military in several months and he may also need to move from the area, and if so, Sophia is going to leave her school and friends. The situation is unpredictable given Mr. Brown's desire to leave the military. Just a few years ago he wanted to move to Ohio to be close to his family. He may still want to do so after he leaves the military. Thus, independent of where Sophia lives during the school year, it is likely that Sophia will be making changes over the next year. In fact, the greatest stability could be making one move to her mother's house and then maintain stability and continuity there.
How does the distance of the move affect the recommendation?
This is a cross-country move so the flight is about 5–6 hours roundtrip in each direction. While Sophia could travel to the other parent's home for a long weekend, it would be best if it for were at least a week at a time.
How does the children's age affect the recommendation?
It is hypothesized that children of Sophia's age are able to make a move with the least problem. She is clearly able to hold on to the relationship with the distant parent via phone and Skype, she can travel easily, and she can even travel by herself if need be. At the same time, she is not yet entrenched in the community so if a move were to take place, this might be the ideal time.[Page 308]
Describe Sophia's relationship with both parents.
As noted above, Sophia appears to have a great relationship with each of her parents. She is well bonded to both, talks to both of her parents about her feelings, and enjoys her time with each of them. She feels similarly toward her stepfather. Along with this, both parents appear to be authoritative in their style, as they have a general routine and structure, with reasonable and predictable rules, and both of them are sensitive to Sophia and her emotions and developmental needs. This style of parenting is seen as the healthiest for children.
What is the relationship between the parents, including but not limited to their ability to communicate and cooperate effectively?
These parents do not communicate very well. They will need help in improving their communication for the benefit of Sophia.
How willing are they to put the children's interests above their individual interests?
While Mr. Brown does not believe that Ms. Green put Sophia's interests above her own when she moved to Tennessee, this move was for a good financial opportunity for her and her husband. There is no evidence available to this evaluator to suggest that either parent puts their own interests above Sophia's.
What are Sophia's wishes, and is she mature enough for such an inquiry to be appropriate?
At this age, Sophia's wishes about where to live are not as significant as other factors described. She is not mature enough for such an inquiry to be appropriate. At the same time, Sophia wishes to continue having a good relationship with both of her parents, something that is not easy to do at this distance.
What are the reasons for the proposed move?
As noted above, the reason for the move was due to Mr. Green's new job. In this evaluator's view, this was in good faith and there is no evidence that this move has any bad faith component to this good faith move.
To what extent are the parents currently sharing custody?
Prior to the move, they shared custody equally. It is expected that both parents will continue to share custody to the extent possible across distance and time.Analysis of Advantages and Disadvantages of Mother-Custody in Tennessee Versus Father-Custody in California
While children generally do best when both parents are actively involved in a wide range of their child's life experiences and activities, and if both parents can be nearer to one another in either California or in Tennessee, the [Page 309]potential risks associated with the possibility of a move would be moot. As noted above, a move, for all practical purposes, does create change in the parent–child relationship with the “left-behind” parent. Unless children can maintain frequent and continuing contact with that parent, there is some loss associated with the move and an automatic adjustment required by the move. In a perfect world, absent significant harm or abuse, children would never live very far from either of their parents so that they could benefit from frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
However, that is not the appropriate question in a move-away evaluation. The necessary analysis at this point is to focus on the potential risks and benefits of mother-custody in Tennessee or father-custody in California and relevant protective factors that might apply in both circumstances.
In looking at the benefits of mother-custody in Tennessee, the primary benefits are that Sophia will have a bigger family; she will be with her mother, stepfather, and sisters; and her mother will be home to take care of her after school, reducing or negating the need for before- and after-school day care. However, the primary risks of mother-custody in Tennessee lie in their negative attitudes toward Mr. Brown and the minimal risk that they might turn into restrictive gatekeeping parents if Sophia is in her mother's care. Of course, she will also have the risk of missing her father while in her mother's primary care.
In considering the benefits of father-custody in California, the primary benefit is that there will be no change in Sophia's major day-to-day life. She will continue in her school, maintain her present friends and the routines she is used to. However, the primary risk of father-custody in California is that she will continue to miss her mother, her stepfather, and Amy. The other primary disadvantages of being in California are that Sophia spends a significant portion of each day in daycare instead of in either parent's care and that no one knows what Mr. Brown will actually be doing after he leaves the military in a few months.
Ultimately, in this evaluator's opinion, the court needs to weigh the primary advantages of mother-custody in Tennessee against the primary advantages of father-custody in California. In this evaluator's view, the benefit to Sophia being with her sister may outweigh the benefit of ongoing stability in California. In addition, it is unclear whether that stability will be at risk when Mr. Brown leaves the military. However, the potential risks associated with Mr. and Ms. Green's negative views toward Mr. Brown make this a very close call.
Again, it will be best for Sophia if both parents could be nearer one another and resume relatively equally shared custody. This can be achieved only if, when Mr. Brown leaves the military, he gets employment in the Tennessee area whereby he will be much closer to Ms. Green and her husband. If that were to occur, I would recommend that they share custody more equally and based on the actual location of where Mr. Brown would be living. However, if Mr. Brown remains in California or gets a job elsewhere after he leaves the military, it would appear to this evaluator that, while a close call, it would be best for Sophia if she were to live in her mother's primary care in Tennessee, and spend considerable time with her father when not in school.[Page 310]
Given the above, this evaluator recommends the following:
- Both Mr. Brown and Ms. Green to continue sharing joint legal custody of Sophia.
- In the event that the parents can live near enough to one another, they should go back to sharing physical custody relatively equally.
- If the parents do not live near one another and the court agrees with this evaluator's recommendation, Ms. Green to be the primary parent during the school year.
- If the court does not agree and believes that the risks of moving to Tennessee outweigh the benefits, Mr. Brown to be the primary parent during the school year.
- Regardless of that decision, the school parent to have primary physical custody of Sophia during the school year. That parent to also have primary custody of Sophia for half of the Christmas break (alternated annually between first half or second half of the break) and 2 weeks during the summer for a vacation. Sophia to remain with the primary parent for 5 days after school ends and be back with the primary parent 7 days before school begins.
- Sophia to be in the physical custody of the non-school parent the rest of the time.
- Regarding summer vacations, the primary school parent is to pick his or her vacation dates by April 1 of each calendar year. In the event that the parents cannot agree on those dates, father to have first choice of dates in even-numbered years and mother to have first choice of dates in odd-numbered years.
- Mr. Brown and Ms. Green need to learn to communicate better with each other. I would recommend that they put aside their differences and start to communicate about Sophia and her day-to-day life. They can use the website http://www.ourfamilywizard.com to begin that communication. If that is not sufficient, they may benefit from periodic co-parent counseling. While such counseling might be difficult cross-country, it may be workable via phone, if needed.
- Regardless of the outcome, if either parent believes that Sophia is having trouble adjusting to the custodial arrangement during the next year, or if Mr. Brown moves to a different location requiring a change in the parenting plan, this evaluator would recommend an updated brief evaluation to see what is in Sophia's best interests.
Thank you for allowing me to be of assistance with this family.
Appendix H: Recommended Reading[Page 311]2006). Clinician's guide to child custody evaluations ((3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.1997). A generation at risk: Growing up in an era of family upheaval. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press., & (2000). Attachment, bonding, and reciprocal connectedness: Limitations of attachment theory in the juvenile and family courts. Journal of the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts, 2, 109–127., & (2003). Relocation law and the threshold of harm: Integrating legal and behavioral perspectives. Family Law Quarterly, 34, 63–82.(2010). Adult recall of parental alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 16–35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10502550903423206(1991). Children held hostage. Chicago: American Bar Association., & (2001). Should courts order PAS children to visit/reside with the alienated parent? A follow-up study. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 19(3), 61–106.(1994). Caught in the middle: Protecting children of high-conflict divorce. New York: Lexington Books., & (2000). The art and science of child custody evaluations. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38(3), 392–414. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.174-1617.2000.tb00581.x, & (2003). Legal and policy responses to children exposed to domestic violence: The need to evaluate intended and unintended consequences. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6, 205–213. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1024914517072, , & (2005). Children of divorce who reject a parent and refuse visitation: Recent research and social policy implications for the alienated child. Family Law Quarterly, 38, 757–775.(2005). The psychological functioning of alienated children in custody disputing families: An exploratory study. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 23(3), 39–64., , & ([Page 312]2005). Expanding forensically informed evaluations and therapeutic interventions in family court. Family Court Review, 43, 466–480. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-1617.2005.00047.x, & (2006). Play therapy doesn't play in court. Journal of Child Custody, 3(1), 77–86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J190v03n01_06(2001). Children's eyewitness reports after exposure to misinformation from parents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 7, 27–50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1076-898X.7.1.27, & (2009). The special needs child and divorce: A practical guide to evaluating and handling cases. Chicago: American Bar Association.(2001). Collaborative law: Achieving effective resolution in divorce without litigation. Chicago: American Bar Association.(2010). Divorce poison: How to protect your family from bad-mouthing and brainwashing. New York: Harper Paperbacks.(
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About the Author[Page 347]
Philip Stahl, PhD, ABPP (Forensic), is a psychologist in private practice who conducts child custody evaluations and provides expert witness testimony. He is a provider of continuing education for psychologists and other mental health providers, and for attorneys and Family Law Specialists in California. He has conducted trainings throughout the United States and internationally for child custody evaluators and others working with high-conflict families of divorce. He has presented workshops for judges throughout the country, is on the faculty of National Judicial College, and is a frequent presenter at programs of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
As a board member of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), he was on the task force that drafted AFCC's Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation (2006). He was a member of the American Bar Association Wingspread Task Force on High Conflict Families. Dr. Stahl is on the Editorial Review Board of AFCC's journal Family Court Review and the Journal of Child Custody. Along with his teaching, Dr. Stahl has written extensively on various issues in high-conflict divorce and custody evaluations. His previous books have been Conducting Child Custody Evaluations: A Comprehensive Guide (1994), Complex Issues in Custody Evaluations (1999), and Parenting After Divorce (2nd ed., 2008), and he is the coeditor of Relocation Issues in Child Custody Cases (2006). His child custody evaluation was cited by the California Supreme Court in its landmark decision modifying 8 years of relocation case law in 2004 (In re Marriage of LaMusga 32 Cal. 4th 1072, 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d 356, 88 P. 3d 81). Most recently, Dr. Stahl was on the workgroup appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court that rewrote Arizona's “Planning for Parenting Time” (Arizona, 2010).
When he has free time, Dr. Stahl enjoys traveling, playing golf, and relaxing with family and friends.
Dr. Stahl can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.