FORENSIC EVALUATIONS IN CUSTODY DISPUTES
By Sari M. Friedman, Legal Counsel
Fathers' Rights Association (NYS & Long Island)
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