An Alternative Assessment to Child Custody Evaluations

Reliability:  The stability of the conclusions and findings of an assessment procedure.

Validity:  The truth or accuracy of the conclusions and findings resulting from an assessment procedure.


There is no established validity to the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.  There is no scientific evidence documenting the construct validity, content validity, predictive validity, convergent validity, or divergent validity for the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations. 

There is no established inter-rater reliability regarding the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.  This means that the conclusions and recommendations reached by any individual child custody evaluation are merely the opinions of this one person – the one psychologist conducting the evaluation – and the conclusions and recommendations reached by this one individual psychologist may not be matched by the conclusions and recommendations reached by another psychologist given the same set of information.

Two different child custody evaluators looking at the same exact data may reach wildly different conclusions and recommendations. There is no established inter-rater reliability regarding the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.

If the conclusions and recommendations from an assessment procedure are not stable – are not reliable – from one evaluator to the next, then the conclusions and recommendations cannot be valid. 

If one day my assessment procedure determines that you are 6’2″ tall, and the next day my assessment procedure determines that you are 4’8″ tall, then my assessment procedure is not a valid (truthful-accurate) measure of your height, because your height is stable but my results are not – and because my results are not reliable (stable), they cannot be a valid (accurate-truthful) measure of your height. Are you 4’8″ tall?  6’2″ tall?  Or somewhere in between?  Who knows.

This is a basic and foundational premise of assessment which is known by every psychologist.

If the conclusions and recommendations reached by one child custody evaluator based on a set of data can be markedly different from the conclusions and recommendations reached by a different child custody evaluator looking at the same data (inter-rater reliability), then the assessment procedure of child custody evaluations is not reliable – the findings are not stable across evaluators.  And if the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations are not reliable (stable across evaluators; inter-rater reliability), then they cannot, by definition, be valid (accurate-truthful).

The conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations merely reflect the personal biases of the individual evaluator, not the actual truth or accuracy of the situation – because the findings, conclusions, and recommendations can change from one evaluator to the next.

The conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations are no more valid than those reached by a monkey throwing darts at a dart board.

If any mental health professional disagrees with this statement, there is a Comment section to the blog.  I invite any mental health professional to cite for me a single research study demonstrating that the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations are any more valid than a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard.

A single citation… <crickets>   Just one.  <crickets>

The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Child custody evaluations violate all of the professionally established standards of practice for the development of an assessment procedure.

While there are professional standards describing how child custody evaluation data should be collected and the role-relationships of the custody evaluator to the Court and the various family members (APA; AFCC), these professional standards do not define the key constructs assessed by child custody evaluations and they do not describe standardized procedures for how the data should be interpreted.

And it’s the interpretation of the data that is key to developing the conclusions and recommendations.

Child custody evaluators are completely free to arbitrarily apply, misapply, or not apply any, some, or none of the established principles and constructs of professional psychology to the interpretation of the data.

No Operational Definitions of Key Constructs:  There are no operational definitions for the key constructs of “best interests of the child” and “parental capacity.”

No Inter-Rater Reliability:  There is no established inter-rater reliability for the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.

No Established Validity:  There is no scientifically established construct validity, content validity, predictive validity, convergent validity, or divergent validity for the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.

Child custody evaluations do not employ any systematic or standardized approach to the interpretation of the data obtained by the evaluation.

The interpretation of data by child custody evaluators is based entirely – entirely – on the idiosyncratic content of the evaluator’s highly variable base of knowledge – or their lack of knowledge – and their conclusions and recommendations are entirely – entirely – subject to the personal prejudices and personal biases of each individual evaluator.

Caveat: Except in cases of child abuse which would warrant a child protection response…

There is no scientific or theoretical foundation which would allow professional psychology to render an opinion regarding the “best interests of the child,” since the very concept of “best interests of the child” is undefined and fundamentally undefinable given the overwhelming complexity of the parent-child relationship and the overwhelming complexity of individual idiosyncratic life-factors affecting the interpersonal family relationships occurring across time, individual circumstances, and the complexity of child maturation and development.

Caveat:  Except in cases of child abuse which would warrant a child protection response…

There is no scientific or theoretical foundation which would allow professional psychology to render an opinion regarding whether a 60-40% custody time-share is in the “best interests of the child” relative to a 70-30% custody time-share, relative to an 80-20% custody time-share, relative to a 90-10% custody time-share, relative to a 50-50% custody time-share.  There is NO scientific or theoretical foundation on which to form such an opinion.

Any opinion offered regarding the relative merits of differing custody time-share alternatives are NOT based in any scientifically or theoretically established psychological principles and constructs, and such opinions are based solely in the personal beliefs, prejudices, and biases of the individual evaluator.  Different mental health professionals examining the same data can reach entirely different conclusions and recommendations based on their personal beliefs, prejudices, and biases, because there is no scientifically or theoretically established foundation for the formation of an opinion regarding the long-term “best interests of the child.”

Children benefit from complex relationships with both parents.

Since there is no scientifically or theoretically established foundation that would allow for a professionally responsible opinion regarding the long-term “best interests of the child” that would result from a 60-40%, 70-30%, 80-20%, 90-10%, or 50-50% child custody time-share in any individual situation, the ONLY professionally responsible opinion that can be provided by professional mental health in all cases concerning child custody time-share (with the exception of child abuse, which would warrant a child protection response) is a recommendation for shared 50%-50% custody time-share based on the foundational principle that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.

If the parents wish to cooperatively develop an alternative custody time-share schedule, that is their right and their prerogative as parents.  But the ONLY professionally responsible opinion available which would be grounded in a scientifically and theoretically supported foundation – given the immense complexity of the changing and idiosyncratic life-factors and relationship factors involved – is for a shared 50-50% custody time-share based on the foundational principle that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.

Any other professional opinion exceeds the scope of scientifically and theoretically grounded professional practice.

Addressing Family Conflict

If family conflict emerges from a 50-50% custody time-share, this is a treatment-related issue NOT a child custody issue.

Professional psychology should scrupulously avoid being drawn into the spousal conflict surrounding divorce by accepting an inappropriate professional role of acting as arbiter in the spousal dispute as to which spouse is the “better parent” who should be awarded the “custody prize” of the child.

Awarding the “custody prize” of the child to the spouse who is deemed to be the “better parent” is a dramatically inappropriate role for professional psychology to undertake, and it is a role that exceeds the scope of scientifically and theoretically grounded professional practice.

The practice of child custody evaluations violate all aspects of scientifically and professionally supported assessment practice (reliability, validity, definitions of key constructs), the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations are based entirely on the ideosyncratic beliefs, personal biases, and highly variable knowledge base of the individual evaluator, and the conclusions and recommendations offered exceed the scope of scientifically and theoretically grounded professional practice.

Children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.

Differing complex relationships will produce differing complex outcomes of uncertain specificity.  These complex and uncertain outcomes will emerge within the context of uncertain and changing life circumstances and the inherently complex variability of the surrounding life context.  These changing and inherently complex life circumstances develop over time and they interact with the child’s own developmental maturation and the ever-changing maturation and growth of the parent-child relationship.

Except in cases of child abuse, it is fundamentally and completely impossible to determine the relative long-term “best interests of the child” that will result from a 60-40%, 70-30%, 80-20%, 90-10%, or 50-50% custody timeshare, and any attempt to do so is grossly misguided, ill-informed, and beyond the scope of scientifically and theoretically grounded professional practice.

If the Court wishes the input of professional psychology regarding child custody surrounding family conflict, such as the emergence of attachment-related pathology in the parent-child relationship evidenced in the child’s refusal to cooperate with the 50-50% custody time-share schedule, this is a treatment-related question regarding the resolution of attachment-related pathology, not a child custody question.

This treatment-related question before the Court can best be addressed by a structured and focused Treatment Needs Assessment procedure rather than by the more elaborate, expensive, unreliable, biased, and scientifically unsupported assessment procedure of a child custody evaluation.

The question before the Court is whether the attachment-related pathology being evidenced in the family represents a child abuse issue that warrants a change in custody as a child protection response.

If the family issues do not rise to the level of child abuse and so do not warrant a child protection response involving the child’s protective separation from the abusive parent, then the family conflict becomes a treatment-related issue, not a child custody issue, and the Court would then benefit from professional mental health guidance regarding the treatment-related needs of the child and family.

Children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents. Altering child custody time-share from a shared 50-50% standard is only warranted under two circumstances:

Child Abuse:  In cases of child abuse, a protective separation of the child from the abusive parent represents an appropriate child protection response.  Treatment should then focus on healing the psychological and emotional impact of the abuse on the child, and then on restoring the child’s relationship with the formerly abusive parent with sufficient safeguards to ensure that the child abuse does not resume once contact with the formerly abusive parent is restored.

Mutual Parental Cooperation:  Parents may choose to cooperate in developing an alternative custody time-share schedule regarding their children.  This is their right and prerogative as parents.

Treatment Needs Assessment

Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

When the issue before the Court is the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA (alleged pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic or borderline personality parent), the appropriate assessment methodology would be a Treatment Needs Assessment that specifically evaluates for the presence of pathogenic parenting by an allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent which would represent a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

A DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed would warrant a child protection response of a Court-ordered protective separation of the child from the psychologically abusive parenting practices of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and the implementation of a treatment protocol to resolve the child’s attachment-related pathology created by the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

A Treatment Needs Assessment protocol represents this type of focused clinical assessment designed to specifically address the referral question of concern: 

Is there psychological child abuse (or other forms of child abuse) that would warrant a Court-ordered protective separation of the child from the abusive parent during the period of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization.

A targeted Treatment Needs Assessment for pathogenic parenting associated with AB-PA can typically be completed in six to eight clinical assessment sessions that specifically assess for the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting in the child’s symptom display (Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting) within the context of the surrounding family dynamics (e.g., triangulation; cross-generational coalition; emotional cutoffs; inverted hierarchy; displays of selective parental incompetence by the allied parent; stimulus control features to the parent-child conflict).

The Treatment Needs Assessment would produce a focused clinical assessment report directed specifically toward the referral question. 

I have posted to my website a brief overview of the treatment-related decision-making surrounding a Treatment Needs Assessment along with two examples for the type of report that can be produced by this focused clinical assessment procedure (Treatment Needs Assessment Report Examples).  The first example report would be for a positive finding of the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting.  The second example report would be for a sub-threshold finding in which some diagnostic criteria for pathogenic parenting are present, but the child does not meet all three criteria for a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

The clinical assessment procedure itself is divided into three phases:

Individual Sessions:  The initial phase of assessment involves clinical assessment sessions with each parent individually, and with the child individually as appropriate, to collect history and symptom information from each family member’s perspective. This phase involves the collection of specific behavior-chain sequences surrounding incidents of parent-child conflict (Behavior Chain Assessment of Parent-Child Conflict).

Joint Parent-Child Sessions:  The symptom features of the parent-child relationship are then directly assessed in joint parent-child sessions which may include collaborative behavior-chain assessments as well as focused Response-to-Intervention probes of the relationship dynamic.

Confirmation Sessions:  The clinical symptom evidence developed during the initial sessions with each parent and the joint parent-child relationship sessions is then further confirmed in follow-up sessions with each parent individually.  These follow-up confirmation sessions explore the schema patterns evidenced by the parents relative to the information obtained in the prior clinical assessment sessions.

Based on this focused set of clinical assessments, the child’s symptom pattern can be documented (Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting) as well as the potentially problematic or normal-range parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent (Parenting Practices Rating Scale).

Three outcomes are possible from this focused Treatment Needs Assessment:

1.)  AB-PA is Present:  The full set of three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting associated with AB-PA are present in the child’s symptom display.  This outcome warrants the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed and the initiation of a child protection response and appropriate treatment.

2.)  Sub-Threshold:  Some of the symptoms of pathogenic parenting are evident in the child’s symptom display, but the child’s symptom pattern is sub-threshold for a diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse (pathogenic parenting).  In this case, a 6-month Response-to-Intervention trial can be initiated to clarify the diagnosis of the family pathology.

  • If changes to the parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent produce corresponding changes in the child’s response to this parent (i.e., evidence that the child’s behavior is under the “stimulus control” of the parent’s behavior), then the parent-child conflict is relatively authentic to this relationship and standard family systems therapy can help resolve the family conflict.
  • If changes to the parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent do not produce corresponding changes in the child’s response to this parent, then the child’s behavior is not under the “stimulus control” of the parent’s behavior.  This represents diagnostically relevant evidence for a cross-generational coalition with the allied and supposedly “favored” parent as being the cause of the child’s conflict with the targeted-rejected parent (i.e., that the source of “stimulus control” for the child’s conflict with the targeted parent is the response the child receives from the allied and supposedly “favored” parent surrounding the child’s conflict with the other parent – Inauthentic Conflict Indicators).  Appropriate family systems therapy should then be initiated to resolve the family pathology of a cross-generational coalition of the allied parent and child against the targeted parent. 
  • If the parenting practices of the allied parent who is in a cross-generational coalition with the child against the other parent are creating significant psychopathology in the child, then the pathogenic parenting by the allied parent may represent a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, which would then warrant a child protection response.

3.)  AB-PA is Not Present:  The three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting are not present in the child’s symptom display.  The parent-child conflict is therefore not due to pathogenic parenting by an allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and parenting factors from the targeted parent are likely contributing to the emergence of the parent-child conflict.  The problematic parenting of the targeted parent should be documented on the Parenting Practices Rating Scale, and improving these problematic parenting practices will become the focus of treatment.  Standard family therapy and parenting skill instruction can help resolve the family conflict and no change in the 50-50% child custody time-share is warranted.

An appropriate assessment leads to an accurate diagnosis, and diagnosis guides treatment.

Definition of Constructs:  Pathogenic parenting is a defined construct in both clinical and developmental psychology (patho=pathological; genic=genesis, creation).  Pathogenic parenting is the creation of significant pathology in the child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices.  Pathogenic parenting is operationally defined in the Treatment Needs Assessment as the presence in the child’s symptom display of three established forms of pathology, 1) attachment-related pathology, 2) personality disorder pathology, and 3) delusional-psychiatric pathology (the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting).  All of these symptom indicators are within the diagnostic scope of practice for all mental health professionals.

Inter-Rater Reliability:  Standardizing the collection, documentation, and interpretation of data by using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the Parenting Practices Rating Scale will substantially improve the inter-rater reliability of the assessment.  Going forward, the standardized structure afforded by the use of these documentation checklists will allow research to be conducted to confirm the inter-rater reliability (with a specific reliability coefficient) for the identification of the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting and for the assessment and documentation of parenting practices.  Inter-rater reliability can also be improved with training.

Construct Validity:  An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation: Foundations offers support for the construct validity of the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting.  Again, going forward, the standardized structure afforded by the use of the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the Parenting Practices Rating Scale will also allow research to be conducted to establish other forms of validity, such as content validity for the three diagnostic indicators, convergent validity relative to other related forms of family pathology (such as enmeshment and the Dark Triad personality), and divergent validity for unrelated forms of family pathology (such as autism-spectrum or ADHD-spectrum parent-child conflicts).  Predictive validity can also be assessed through longer-term follow-up with cases that have been assessed, diagnosed, and treated using an AB-PA model of the pathology.  Incorporating the 12 Associated Clinical Signs identified on the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting into research can also lead to the possible identification of differing forms of the pathology and potentially to increased professional insight into the functioning of the attachment system and the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma.

Standardization of Diagnostic Interpretation:  Unlike the vaguely defined construct of “parental alienation” currently in use by many mental health professionals, the definition of pathology employed by the Treatment Needs Assessment using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the AB-PA model of pathology as described and defined in An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation: Foundations provides a standardized approach to the interpretation of child symptoms using standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

Cost and Time Benefits:  A typical child custody evaluation can cost between 20 to 30 thousand dollars and can take between six to nine months to complete.  This places child custody evaluations beyond the affordability of many families.  In addition, the time delays surrounding the completion of a child custody evaluation allow the child’s symptomatology to become ever more entrenched with each passing day.  To the extent that the pathogenic parenting by the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, the delay of six to nine months in enacting an appropriate child protection response is excessive.  A more focused Treatment Needs Assessment can be completed within six to eight weeks for a probable cost of under $2,000.  The increased timeliness of the report’s completion within six to eight weeks of referral allows for a quicker child protection response that more actively addresses and resolves the child’s psychological abuse.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

3 thoughts on “An Alternative Assessment to Child Custody Evaluations”

  1. “There is no established validity to the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations. There is no scientific evidence documenting the construct validity, content validity, predictive validity, convergent validity, or divergent validity for the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.

    There is no established inter-rater reliability regarding the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations. This means that the conclusions and recommendations reached by any individual child custody evaluation are merely the opinions of this one person – the one psychologist conducting the evaluation – and the conclusions and recommendations reached by this one individual psychologist may not be matched by the conclusions and recommendations reached by another psychologist given the same set of information.”

    Lets address truth forefront. You have to write ridiculously lengthy diatribes that are common sense, factual and scientific over and over because their is a system that is by design to allow autonomy and control to garnish power and money. i.e. corruption and fraud. I will contend it is not by “one individual” who is creating the false victims to arrange exploits but by Federal law that states;

    42 U.S. Code § 13001a
    (7)the term “multidisciplinary response to child abuse” means a response to
    child abuse that is based on mutually agreed upon procedures among the
    community agencies and professionals involved in the intervention, prevention,
    prosecution, and investigation systems that best meets the needs of child
    victims and their nonoffending family members;(8)the term “nonoffending family
    member” means a member of the family of a victim of child abuse other than a
    member who has been convicted or accused of committing an act of child abuse;
    and (Pub. L. 101–647, title II, § 212, as added Pub. L. 102–586, § 6(b)(2),
    Nov. 4, 1992, 106 Stat. 5029; amended Pub. L. 114–22, title I, § 104(1), May
    29, 2015, 129 Stat. 236.)
    42 U.S. Code § 13001b
    (a)Establishment of regional children’s advocacy program The Administrator, in
    coordination with the Director and with the Director of the Office of Victims
    of Crime, shall establish a children’s advocacy program to—(1)focus attention
    on child victims by assisting communities in developing child-focused,
    community-oriented, facility-based programs designed to improve the resources
    available to children and families;(2)provide support for nonoffending family
    members; (2)Grant recipients A grant recipient under this section
    shall—(A)assist communities—(i)in developing a comprehensive,
    multidisciplinary response to child abuse that is designed to meet the needs
    of child victims and their families; (iii)in preventing or reducing trauma to
    children caused by multiple contacts with community professionals; (iv)in
    providing families with needed services and assisting them in regaining
    maximum functioning;

    Where:
    – “families” is always defined as “nonoffending” in the system and making the
    system ‘all powerful’ and parents and children in to lifetime ‘victims’ to be
    exploited.
    – system = “grant recipient”
    -“multidisciplinary response to child abuse” means a conspiracy by the local
    system.
    – “…accused of committing an act of child abuse” the means of causing billions
    of dollars in litigation for government sanctioned fraud that cannot be
    defended against.
    – “Grant” is an invite to defraud the government without oversight or
    accountability and a motivation to create “nonoffending families” & offending
    families, even where none exist so as to support the existing ‘Frankenstein’
    local system that grows without real purpose.
    – “that best meets the needs of child victims and their nonoffending family
    members” is the false guise to hide the debauchery and fraud behind, create
    discrimination and favor, removing the balance and blindfold from the
    judiciary, while giving them mafia like motivation and purpose to defraud both
    sides of the family for gain ill-gotten from the State and Feds without
    accountability… ultimate power corrupts ultimately reigns again.

    My family alone has over 100 years cumulatively “among the
    community agencies and professionals involved in the intervention, prevention,
    prosecution, and investigation systems that best meets the needs of child
    victims and their nonoffending family members” and I testify to you that not
    one “intent and purpose of the law” legislated, (& rewritten in 2016 by special
    committee) 750 ILCS 5/102, has been fulfilled for the families of any type in
    Illinois, no, but, exactly the opposite! It appears writing laws without
    accountability is another way to feign that the government is “for the People”
    and has the “best interest of the child” in mind.

    If the alienating parent was not a sociopath to start with and s/he chooses this “blue pill”… they become a sociopathic monster empowered and assembled by the ” the
    community agencies and professionals involved in the intervention, prevention,
    prosecution, and investigation systems…” What I call an extreme case of “grabbing the tiger by the tail”… so after years and years to “let go” or admit “illness” would destroy her/him. AND cause the “system” to have to pay back Grant monies or be found for fraud.

    I think that is something you, Dr. Childress and I can surely agree on…no? i.e. This is a system that preys on families to acquire kickbacks by fraud whether you are in Law, Child Protection or Phychology it is to become a form of “child trafficking”, though be it a sanctioned form.

    Qui tam and Federal fraud cases to recover the Federal money for the USA tax payer and up to 30% for the one who turns them in. I am currently there, but finding it difficult to find a team to start shutting down the fraud. How about you?

    Gary Myers
    myers@afo.net

  2. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “Child custody evaluators are completely free to arbitrarily apply, misapply, or not apply any, some, or none of the established principles and constructs of professional psychology to the interpretation of the data.”

    1. And so are Judges free to use or ignore what was said. After 11 years and 7 children and constantly asking why they choose to ignore true abuse, throw the kids under the bus and pretend someone else is at fault? You know just digging for the facts and truth of what is going on you find one way or another it is to garnish power and money. i.e. fraud by sacrifice of children.

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