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Using Psychologists in Child Custody Cases: 3 Things You Must Know

 

If child custody is a hot topic in your divorce, or even paternity case, chances are you have gotten a psychologist involved. 

A psychologist can be a must-have tool when dealing with child custody in divorce cases for the simple fact that judges listen to them.  Psychologists have the unique ability of meeting with the children, as well as the rest of the parties involved, and gathering their input on time-sharing. Good divorce lawyers know this, and know when the expert is worth the cost.

While a child’s preference is a factor in the Florida Statutes for dealing with time-sharing, most judges will not take the testimony of a minor child.  Judges do not want to have minor children get involved in disputes between parents, and feel like they have to “pick a side.”

I have had the opportunity to listen to children testify, and I feel like it has the opposite effect in the sense that it empowers the child (if the right age) and gives them an opportunity to participate in decisions that will be affecting their lives as well.

However, I am not a judge — and in most cases if you want the child’s preference to be heard, you need to get a psychologist involved.

Good Psychologists Will Not Alter Their Opinion Just to Win

Most people assume if they hire a psychologist then that expert will come in and regurgitate what they want the expert to tell the court.

This is not always the case.

The trick is to do your research.  There are multiple variations and viewpoints on every issue, and chances are you can find a psychologist who shares your views.

For instance, if you are trying to argue that your spouse alienated the children against you, find a psychologist who has done research on this view, and believes in the theory of alienation.

You cannot just hire any psychologist to go in and argue for you if he does not believe in your position.

Make sure you are researching experts far enough in advance of when you need them.

Sometimes you have to meet with them, and have them review records, to see what their opinion is going to be.

The psychologist might not be able to tell you anything worthwhile without doing this review, and you do not want to be listening to the psychologist’s opinion at the same time your spouse is. So have the psychologist review everything far enough in advance of having disclose him to your spouse, to make sure his views are going to be in line with your own.

The Best Practice is For the Court to Appoint a Psychologist

The best practice when dealing with a psychologist is to have him appointed by the court.

If the court appoints the psychologist then, even if you are the one who wanted him appointed, you can argue he is not “your expert.”

The reason this is so important is because courts tend to have a skeptical view of “hired guns.”  The courts know if you pay an expert enough money, he may skew his opinion in the light most favorably to you.  However, if the court appoints the psychologist as an expert, the court will also determine which party will be paying, and the assumption is the expert is a neutral party appointed to report back to the court.

However, the psychologist may still have a view in your favor, but the court is more likely to give it more weight.

Psychologists Cannot Cross Roles

Psychologists can be appointed, or hired, to provide a variety of different services.  Some of these are:

  • Child Custody/Parenting Plan Evaluation
  • Child and/or Family Therapy
  • Parenting Coordination
  • Mediation
  • Expert Witness

A psychologist cannot be hired to do therapy with a child and parent, and then turn around and give a parenting plan recommendation.  In fact, the only one who should be making parenting plan recommendations to the court is a psychologist who has performed an in-depth child custody/parenting plan evaluation. Now if there is a psychologist who did a child custody/parenting plan evaluation with the court and you were unhappy with the results, your recourse would be to hire another psychologist as an expert witness to go through the evaluation, and the testing, and tell the court what the first psychologist did wrong and why the recommendation wouldn’t be valid.

Without doing the full evaluation, the psychologist would not have enough information to make the recommendation to the court.

 

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