In most cases, parents who divorce settle custody arrangements out of court.  Sometimes, however, parents do not agree and the judge or magistrate must determine with whom the child(ren) will reside.  In those cases, it often is advisable for the judge to elicit the expertise of a psychologist to help him/her make the ultimate decision.

Not all psychologists are qualified to conduct a child custody evaluation.  It requires particular training and expertise by a forensic psychologist.  As such, the psychologist does not advocate for either parent.  Rather, the perceived best interests of the child(ren) is the psychologist’s prime concern.

Child custody evaluations involve considerable time and most often are emotionally taxing—given the conditions of each particular dispute.  The process involves individual interviews with all parties involved in the case (including the child[ren]), an extensive record review, psychological testing, and family observation sessions.

At the completion of the child custody evaluation, a report is sent to the magistrate or judge.  At that point, the psychologist’s role is typically is over.  Sometimes, the psychologist is requested to testify in court regarding particular elements in the report.  In all cases, it is up to the magistrate or judge—not the psychologist—to make the ultimate decision.  The psychologist only provides a recommendation(s) to the court, when requested to do so.

As a forensic psychologist in a child custody evaluation, my role is to be objective, fair, and impartial to all parties.  I have no pre-conceived assumptions regarding which parent should or should not be named as residential parent by the court.  Each matter is unique, and conclusions are drawn on a case-by-case basis, depending on the unique elements of the situation.