FORENSIC EVALUATIONS IN CUSTODY DISPUTES

By Sari M. Friedman, Esq.

Very commonly in a custody dispute people are faced with the situation of participating in a forensic evaluation. That is, an evaluation by a psychiatrist chosen mutually by both litigants or the Court to provide a neutral evaluation of the litigants and child(ren) and render a ecommendation of what is in the child(ren)'s best interest in terms of a custodial and visitation arrangement. This analysis is written after seeing both parents separately on several occasions, the children and each parent with the children.

People participating in this evaluation should be aware of some of the important factors the psychiatrist is looking for. One factor is which parent will as a custodial parent better foster a relationship with the other parent and the child(ren). Be careful not to lead the psychiatrist to believe you will speak derogatorily to the children about the other parent or foster in the children a poor image of the other parent.

The belief is that children are best off with two parents who they hold in high esteem whenever possible.

It would be helpful if you could get across to the forensic psychiatrist that you understand this. A good forensic psychiatrist will also look to determine which parent better understands the physical and emotional developmental stages of the child(ren). This will be revealing to them of each parent's involvement with the child(ren) in the past. A parent who is not in touch with a child's development, likes, dislikes, feelings, etc. will not present as positive an image as one that is.

The background of each parent since birth is also something a forensic psychiatrist will explore. This will be done with a view toward analyzing the parent's stability. A major question is which parent can provide a more stable HOME environment for the children from a physical and emotional point of view.

A parent who comes across as emotionally unstable themselves will have difficulty convincing a psychiatrist of their ability to provide this stability for their child. Therefore a parent with significant psychological problems or drug or alcohol dependency will not do well in this area. Similarly a parent who demonstrates instability in terms of lifestyle choices such as frequent moves, a paramour of questionable character who is regularly exposed to the children, always being out and unavailable for the children should similarly not come across well in these reports.

Often times the source of this information is what the children themselves report to the forensic psychiatrist.

Another important factor is a parent's concern for the children and exercise of proper judgment. A parent who is perceived
as not being there for a child physically or emotionally or of spending quality time with the children will also not come across
in a positive light. Giving children a good set of values, being a positive role model and putting the children's
needs ahead or equal to your own is important.

If a custodial parent is not available for a child, or is engaging in behavior inappropriate in front of a child then frequently this will come out during the interviews with the children. The information children reveal to a forensic psychiatrist can frequently

be the best evidence for the other parent. A forensic psychiatrist in rendering a report is not bound by the rules of evidence.

They can consider hearsay (out of court) statements which may not be admissible in a court of law.
If this information was utilized however by the forensic psychiatrist in making his evaluation then even if it is
hearsay it may properly be presented to the court.

The forensic evaluations and recommendations are usually given high regard by the Courts. Often times the best way to win custody is to have a forensic psychiatrist agree that it is in the children's best interest for you to be the custodial parent.

Being aware therefore of factors they consider is important. Prior to attending these forensic sessions it is a good idea to discuss with your attorney aspects of your case and what to be sure to point out to the forensic psychiatrist.