Introductory guide to child custody evaluations: Role conflicts, demands and practice implications

Michael S. Parish (1998)

The purpose of this dissertation is to serve as an introductory guide for psychologists conducting child custody evaluations in divorce and visitation disputes. The context of a forensic-related evaluation poses challenges which may differ from those in more traditional clinical settings. To assist the practitioner who is unfamiliar with this area of forensic practice, the literature review includes an overview of the following topics: the legal context of custody evaluations; legal standards for custody determination; ethical demands and professional guidelines; an evaluation format; and a consideration of the role of psychological testing and the nature of appropriate, forensically relevant instruments in the evaluation process, and a brief review of currently available custody instruments. Also reviewed is literature which critically examines the role conflicts, ethical dilemmas and challenges confronting evaluators, and conflicting audiences and functions of the evaluation report. Based on these ongoing controversies, practice demands and the general context of the evaluation, implications for professional practice are drawn and suggestions offered for how psychologists might best proceed. This dissertation concludes with the proviso that in many areas of the evaluation process, not all professional concerns can be easily resolved. A cautious approach is recommended. To assist in meeting these demands, a list of broad-based, guiding questions are offered which psychologists may find useful in addressing the range of challenges they will face during every phase of the evaluation process.