Child Custody Evaluation
Each year about 1. 2 million marriages end in divorce, and many divorcing couples have children (Patel&Jones, 2008). In the year 2006 more than 1. 1 million children were living with a parent who was divorced or separated. Though most parents face the challenges associated with divorce or separation in a healthy and successful manner without high-conflict interactions. However, according to Patel and Jones about 10% of divorce cases involving children disagreement on custody and visitation arrangements leads to litigation(2008).
In these cases, it is often left to the court to make decisions about custody, and several custody cases are referred to court-appointed mental health experts during the process. Patel and Jones state that mental health counselors possess the knowledge and skills to be effective mental health evaluators in child custody disputes. However, these counselors must be able familiar with guiding principles and standards that are in the area they are in.
Child Custody Evaluation Essay Example
Thus, a counselor must not only know the standards of the counseling profession American Mental Health Counseling Associate and American Counseling Association but also standards and principles specific to evaluations in child custody cases (2008). The reason for a custody evaluation is to make a decision that is in the best interest of the child/children. A custody evaluation may also be ordered when there is a significant change in circumstances relating to custody of the child, such as the proposed relocation of one parent (Barth, 2011).
Mental health evaluations used in child custody cases give family courts a thorough and unbiased assessment about the functionality of a family and the child’s best interests. Most evaluations include recommendations for primary custody of the child as well as visitation rights (Bow & Quinnell, 2004 as cited by Patel & Jones, 2008). Written reports document the evaluator’s findings and recommendations, and evaluators testify in court.
most are based in part on the custody section of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (1979) and cover (a) the parents’ wishes; (b) the child’s wishes; (c) interactions and relationships between parents, children, and other significant persons; (d) the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community; and (e) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved. States may also take into account other custody factors, such as a parent’s ability to provide for the child, moral fitness, and other non psychological factors (Patel &Jones, 2008).
Patel and Jones (2008) report that the three main reasons judges recommended a mental health evaluation were allegations of physical, sexual abuse or neglect, allegations that a parent was mentally unstable, and parental conflict. Besides having a master’s degree in mental health counseling or a related field, evaluators need to be competent in a wide range of topics related to child custody, such as child development, psychopathology, interviewing techniques, and family systems. According to Patel and Jones (2008) mental health counselors must understand the law and local rules governing child custody in their jurisdiction.
The counselor must understand the ethical considerations associated with mental health evaluations, including the data collection process, limits of confidentiality, ex parte communications, and multiple relationships. They must also understand the distinctions between the counselor and evaluator roles. They must also understand the complexities of divorce or separation processes and common issues concerning children in custody disputes, such as parent-child relationships, blended families, parental alienation, domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse.
It is recommended that for training in custody-related mental health evaluations, counselors seek out graduate courses, workshops, or conferences; counselors with less than two years experience conducting evaluations should seek supervision (Patel & Jones, 2008). Mental health counselors must possess the knowledge, skills, and training to be effective mental health evaluators in child custody disputes. It is important that judges have accurate information about the family that allows them to make decisions that will be in the best interests of the child.
Mental health evaluations used in child custody cases should be able to give family courts a thorough and unbiased assessment about the functionality of a family and the child’s best interests. Lee, Borelli and West (2011) state that ‘‘best interests of the child’’ legal standard, custody evaluators rely on their assessment of the parent-child relationships. A counselor should be able to identify each parent’s capacity to meet the needs of the child. A negative aspect to the judge’s decision is that it can result in the relocation of child with a parent which in turn disturbing the child’s familiar way of life(Kennedy, 2012).
About 10% of divorcing families have disagreements about custody that are significant enough to lead to court involvement about custody or visitation because according to Lebow and Black (2012) these parents also typically exhibit skills deficits in several areas. At the individual level, these parents often have difficulty understanding another person’s perspective and tend to focus on their own needs rather than on the needs of others. There is a possibility that these parents almost always have extreme difficulties with communication which ultimately leads to the court being involved.
Effects: Mental health evaluations in child custody disputes give family courts an avenue to obtain a thorough assessment of how the family functions. Thus, many court- ordered custody evaluations will suggest family therapy with all members of the family; such as, sessions with both parents, individual parent sessions, and individual child sessions (Lebow & Black, 2012). Lebow and Black (2012) write that parents that have to go through custody evaluations are a unique group of divorcing parents.
The difference between these parents and others is that everyone involved is upset during the time of divorce when most parents are prioritizing the maximum amount of time they can spend with their children and their influence on their children’s lives. Yet during a divorce for most parents have to deal with the negative factors that become evoked in custody such as time with children disputes at the expense of negative effects on the children, harm to their former spouse, living with conflict, the sorts of factors about which judges frequently reminds the parents which does little to alleviate the conflict.
Typically, communication tends to be very because one or both parents become emotionally flooded easily. Given an escalating divorcing process, attitudes and behavior of each readily become proof of the rightness of one’s own cause. The parent envisions his or her position as being ‘‘in the best interest of the child’’ through the rigid lens of how they see their former partner. although custody evaluators might have little trouble sorting out which parents present threats to children, their evaluation might be opposite to the parents’ perception of threat.
Parents may perceive each other as being a threat to children due to their own psychopathology or the level of conflict in their particular situation. Johnston, Walters, and Olesen (2005) report in an early community study of divorce followed five years after separation the children have reported feeling reluctant to visit the non-custodial parent. It’s also noted that several years after the divorce children were in “extreme alignments” putting one parent again the other which leads rejection from one parent.
These more extreme forms of rejection included sustained expressions of anger, dislike, scorn, and complaints about the parent that were at times backed up by the child citing family stories or allegations of maltreatment, which is often accompanied by resistance or a refusal to visit with a parent (Johnston et al. 2005). Fathers tended to be more strongly rejected by their children than were mothers. Austin (2011) states preferences for mothers is defined as “gatekeeping”. This is an attempt to restrict and exclude fathers from child care and involvement with their children.
Sons and daughters were about equally likely to take this stance and align with one parent against the other. The influence of one parent to another highly effective because in Johnston et al. 2005 states that parents showed fairly consistent indicators of behavior that could have sabotaged the child’s relationship with the other parent, for example, by telling negative stories and blaming the other parent, modeling hostile demeaning behavior in the child’s presence, using the child to convey these messages, and responding with anger if the child was inclined to express positive feelings about the other parent.
Johnston et al. (2005) found that parents who were alienating their children were also those who had poor boundaries and engaged in role reversal with their children. These parents seem to have a hard time distinguishing their own feelings from those of their child, and the child often becomes the parent’s confidante. This finding concurs with our clinical experience that parents’ psychological neediness, quite apart from their feelings of hostility toward the ex-spouse, may propel children toward siding with one parent and a result it influences rejection.
Intervention: Bow, Gottlieb, Gould-Saltman, Hendershot (2011) provide an order of how a mental health counselor may provide support to the parent and attorney and help them identify resources to assist with case-specific needs. Second, a mental health consultant may teach the parent new skills to facilitate a resolution to the dispute. Third, a consultant may collaborate with the attorney and parent as a team throughout the court process, in the hope of resolving the matter.
Fourth, a mental health consultant may provide therapy for the parent to address unresolved issues that might impact parenting. Fifth, mental health consultants may act as parenting plan advisors. During this time of conflict it is beneficial to have as much good therapy is as possible. In these cases, everyone is traumatized and parents need help in order to recognize their roles in the problem and to see how they can reduce the difficulty, and children need help to see how to cope with the situation in which they live (Lebow and Black, 2012).
However, most families are constrained by finances or time making it difficult to attend the three or more therapy sessions per week that might be called for if there is to be individual therapy for the parents, conjoint therapy for the parents, child therapies, and family therapies. Lebow and Black (2012) write that there is a belief that therapy will convince the court that ‘‘my needs are the most reasonable here’’ is a common distortion about how the court functions and about the purpose of treatment.
The therapist should apply their skill to reframing as well as other strategies to help family members work toward goals that they may not originally embrace. The therapist must be able to find a way to confront and work with dysfunctional behavior while keeping a positive alliance with each party. In order to develop and maintain a consistent alliance with all family members, the therapist should regularly assess the therapeutic alliance formally (Lebow &Black, 2012) Lebow and Black report that psychoeducation is a particularly crucial and potent intervention for this
population. Several content areas are important to cover with these parents (2012). First, parents need to develop an understanding of children’s reactions to divorce and child custody battles. Specifically, parents need to become aware of normative reactions to divorce and parental conflict. Normalizing children’s reactions such as experiencing anxiety or having difficulties adjusting between households helps decrease negative attributions parents may have toward one another.
Families often make sense of their children’s normative reactions as signs of special difficulty on the part of the other parent when in actuality the child is experiencing separation anxiety from their original home and the other parent when with the primary parent. Secondly, parents need to develop an understanding the risks of how too much parent involvement can cause conflict with children The parents may need to learn appropriate parenting skills.
Many parents, particularly those new to the principal caretaking role, may lack the skill sets needed to care for their children. Finally, in high-conflict divorce, parents often need to increase their understanding of what cause the other to escalate by learning about the negative impact of both aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors. Working with court-involved parents is one of the most stressful contexts of therapy. Therapists working with this population should develop strong support systems in the therapy and legal communities.
Therapists need to learn the ethics involved in working with this population as well as learn how to work with these families without experiencing burnout (Lebow & Black, 2012). Conclusion: A child custody evaluation can be highly stressful for the parents involved particularly for the children involved . It takes well-trained mental health counselor who is also knowledgeable of the legal system to take on these sensitive cases.
It easy to forget the children that are involved and how they are impacted by a divorce. Although the decisions are to be in the best interest of the child I believe the parents and even the legal system lose sight into what is actually in the best interest of the child. It is imperative that mental health counselors made a part of the custody dispute process to ensure that the children involved are not overlooked and properly prepared for the outcomes.