The Child Custody Industry in Mental Health

There is no validity whatsoever to the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.  None.  Zero.

Different custody evaluators can reach entirely different conclusions and recommendations based on the same data (no inter-rater reliability), there is no definition as to what constitutes the “best interests” of the child, and child custody evaluators are free to apply, misapply, or not apply any, some, or none of the constructs and principles of professional psychology.

The conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations are no more valid than a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard.

Disagree?  Provide me with one citation that demonstrates that the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations are any more valid than a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard. <crickets>

The conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations are simply made up out of thin air.  Child custody evaluators spend lots and lots of time collecting data (all at $250 to $300 an hour – very lucrative), and they spend lots and lots of time writing, documenting the content of the data they’ve collected (again, all at $250 to $300 an hour – very lucrative), but as for the conclusions and recommendations they reach… well they just make those up.

Seriously, no exaggeration.  They just entirely make up whatever conclusions and recommendations they want.

Q: “Don’t they base their conclusions and recommendations on the data they’ve collected?”

A:  Nope.  They just make up whatever conclusions and recommendations they want based on their personal biases and their idiosyncratic base of knowledge – or lack of knowledge, and then they fit these conclusions and recommendation over the data.

Slip-Cover Analogy:  It’s kind of like making a slip-cover for a couch.  The slip-cover has the basic couch shape, but the question is whether the actual couch is a green couch, or a red couch, or a leather couch?  Who knows.  The “color” is decided by the evaluator who is making the slip-cover, and it’s whatever color the custody evaluator decides, irrespective of the actual color of the couch.  If the evaluator wants a blue couch, then the evaluator simply makes a blue slip-cover for the couch.  If the evaluator wants it to be a red couch, no problem, the evaluator simply makes a red slip-cover.  What color the couch actually is… well, we’ll just never know.

Child custody evaluators are 100% free to apply, misapply, or not apply any, some, or none of the established constructs and principles of professional psychology to the data.  There is no standardization to the interpretation of the data, not even any standardization related to the application of established constructs and principles of professional psychology to the interpretation of the data.

Seriously, I kid you not.  They just make up their conclusions in any way they want.  I am absolutely stone cold serious about that.  No exaggeration.  As a consultant for attorneys, I’ve read these evaluations.  The evaluators just make it up.  The reporting on the data is fine, it’s their conclusions and recommendations that they simply make up willy-nilly, any way they want.

Do they apply the constructs and principles of attachment theory to an attachment related family pathology?  Nope.  Apparently there’s no need.

Do they apply family systems constructs and principles to family conflicts and problems?  Nope.  Apparently, there’s no need to do that either.

How about applying the fundamentals of the DSM diagnostic system to pathology evidenced in the family?  Nope.  No need.  In fact, the professional practice Standards of the APA and AFCC actually encourage child custody evaluators NOT to tell the court about the presence of any DSM-related pathology evidenced by the parents because a diagnostic label might be “prejudicial” to that parent’s efforts to obtain custody of the child.  Go figure.  Isn’t intentionally withholding relevant diagnostic information from the Court just as prejudicial in the opposite direction, against the normal-range parent?  Oh well, even DSM diagnostic information is not applied to the data.

How about applying standard personality disorder constructs such as narcissistic, borderline, or the evidenced-based Dark Triad personality pathology (Paulhus & Williams, 2002) to understanding the family’s interaction patterns?  Nope.  No need.

How about applying the principles of parental “psychological control” of the child (Barber, 2002), or parental “boundary violations” with the child (Kerig, 2005), or an “invalidating environment” created by distorted parenting practices (Linehan, 1993)?  Nope.  No need.

How about simply defining what the construct of the child’s “best interests” means and how that will be determined?  Nope.  No need to do that either.

So then my question to child custody evaluators would be:

Q:  Then what ARE the principles and constructs from professional psychology that you are systematically applying as the basis for interpreting the data and reaching your conclusions and recommendations?

A:  Whatever we feel like.  We actually don’t have to use any constructs or principles from professional psychology.  We are 100% free to just do whatever we want with regard to interpreting the data.  We just reach any conclusion we want, and then we make recommendations.

Q:  So you reach whatever conclusions you feel like regarding the family processes and the child’s best interests without necessarily applying any of the established constructs and principles of professional psychology in any systematic way to your analysis?

A:  Yep.  And you know the best part?  The Court then seals the report so that no one ever reviews the accuracy of the conclusions we’ve reached and the recommendations we’ve made.  Pretty sweet deal, eh?  And even if the report is ever reviewed, it’s only reviewed by another forensic psychologist who is in the same racket, er, field, of also conducting child custody evaluations, and they only review the report as to whether the proper data collection procedures were followed, NOT whether the conclusions were accurate and the recommendations were warranted by the data.

There is no scientifically or theoretically established foundation for the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluators.  Zero.  None.

Prior Blogs on this topic:  

Cross Examining Child Custody Evaluations
A Solution to Assessing the Best Interests of the Child
An Alternative Assessment to Child Custody Evaluations

Q:  So Dr. Childress, if there is zero scientifically established validity to the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations, then why does the practice of child custody evaluation continue?

A:  Good question. I’ll get to that… so follow along.

Clinical vs Forensic Psychology

Did you know that clinical psychologists are prohibited from offering opinions regarding child custody?  Why is that?

After six months or a year of doing family therapy, we know the family dynamics pretty well.  If an opinion regarding the “best interests” of the child surrounding the child’s custody is desired, wouldn’t the clinical psychologist who’s been involved in treating the family be in the best position to offer this opinion?

I’ve been trying to find the justification for prohibiting clinical psychologists from offering opinions regarding child custody, and what seems to be offered is that clinical psychologists are somehow made to be “biased” by their role as therapists, and that this supposed “bias” would entail a “multiple role” if the clinical psychologist is then asked to provide a professional opinion regarding the child’s “best interests.”  Therefore, a supposedly “objective” child custody evaluation is needed to avoid the supposed “bias” of the clinical psychologist.

Oh my God.  Let me at that justification…

The “multiple roles” argument is a false construction designed to invalidate the opinions of the treating clinical psychologist and justify a bogus assessment procedure that costs between $20,000 to $40,000.

First off, let’s get something straight… ALL psychologists are supposed to function without bias and in the best interests of our clients.  To accuse clinical psychologists of bias is unfounded, unwarranted, and frankly, insulting.  All capable and competent clinical psychologists conduct our assessments, diagnoses, and treatment without bias.  Assessing and diagnosing family dysfunction is our profession.  It is NOT a “multiple role.”

Second, whenever I’ve encountered this justification it is always built on a straw-man presentation of what therapy is.  The author proposing this “multiple role” argument always creates a false definition of what therapy entails and then uses this false definition to frame a straw-man argument that clinical psychologists are inherently biased by their role and therefore cannot reach an “objective” opinion regarding the functioning of the family or best interests of the child.  False.  False definition of therapy.  False attribution of inherent bias.  False argument.

Capable and competent family therapists do NOT simply passively accept what the family members tell us.  Are you kidding me?  Family therapists assess the family’s functioning through a variety of procedures in which we apply standard and established constructs of family systems therapy – laid out by such preeminent family systems theorists as Murray Bowen, Virginia Satir, Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley, Cloe Madanes, and others – and we use these standard and established principles of family functioning to reach an accurate diagnosis of the family’s problematic functioning in order to develop a treatment plan to fix it.

A capable and competent family systems therapist does NOT simply passively accept what the family members say.  A family systems therapist analyzes the family structure and family interaction patterns, and then intervenes in selective ways to alter the unhealthy structures and interaction patterns within the family.  Bias?  That’s called knowledge.  I know exactly what is going on and I know exactly how to fix it.  That’s my profession, that’s my expertise.

It’s not “bias” – it’s knowledge.

Family systems therapists understand the family extremely well.  Better than the family understands itself.  We understand the family norms governing the interaction patterns in the family.  We understand the underlying anxieties of the family members in their struggles for intimacy in the context of establishing their independent autonomy.  We understand how the needs, emotions, and conflicts of various family members are being deflected, triangulated, and diverted within the family.  That’s the basis of our work.  In order to change the dysfunctional family system, we must first understand the functioning of the dysfunctional family system.  Bias?  It’s called knowledge.

I can counter and dismantle-in-detail this false “multiple roles” justification for prohibiting clinical psychologists from offering an opinion regarding the “best interests” of the child surrounding custody and visitation.  It is a bogus and false justification.

If this supposed “bias” and “multiple roles” justification (which, by the way, assumes in it’s very framing that there are two roles) is bogus, then what’s the real reason for prohibiting clinical psychologists from offering an opinion regarding the best interests of the child surrounding child custody and visitation?

The secret to understanding the underlying motivation for prohibiting clinical psychologists from offering an opinion regarding the child’s best interests is found in de-constructing the “multiple roles” argument.  It’s sneaky.  By merely proposing that there are “multiple roles” they are CREATING separate roles.  According to this (false) line of argument, one role is “subjective” (the therapist) and one role is “objective” (the evaluator).  Sneaky.

Doesn’t the Court want an “objective” opinion?  Then the Court obviously wants a child custody evaluation by an “objective” custody evaluator.

But let me reframe this false dichotomy:  It’s not about subjective and objective; it’s about knowledgeable and ignorant.  The clinical psychologist is knowledgeable of the family dynamics based on months and months of family systems assessment sessions involving detailed interaction with the family’s structures and relationship patterns.  The clinical psychologist knows the family.  Knowing something is called being “knowledgeable.”

The child custody evaluator, on the other hand, starts from a position of complete ignorance regarding the family’s functioning (in which ignorance is framed as being “objective”), and then begins to collect information in an effort to develop the knowledge already possessed by the clinical psychologist regarding the family.  The custody evaluator begins gathering history and symptom information from interviews with the family members (who may be presenting self-serving reports regarding the family relationships), and the custody evaluator interviews family friends of the parents (who offer biased reports that support their friend), the custody evaluator may also conduct artificial and painfully superficial “family observation” sessions, and the custody evaluator administers tests of questionable value (such as applying tests developed for other purposes, such as the MMPI, to the custody situation, or using self-report instruments that are prone to self-serving bias in reporting).

All of this rigamarole in data collection is under the guise that a “multi-method” approach to data collection makes the interpretation of the data valid.  No… it doesn’t.  Data collection and data interpretation are two different processes.  A multi-method approach to data collection provides a lot of data from multiple persepectives.  That’s all.  The next – and separate – question is how is this data set INTERPRETED?  That is the critical question regarding the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.  How is the data set interpreted?

Not knowing something is not being “objective,” not knowing something is called being “ignorant.”  Child custody evaluators aren’t any more “objective” than the clinical psychologists.  Child custody evaluators are simply moving from a place of ignorance to the place of knowledge already possessed by the family therapist.  That’s not “objective,” that’s just moving from ignorance to knowledge.

The child custody evaluator is essentially trying to develop, from a standing-start, the knowledge of the family dynamics that the treating clinical psychologist already has in spades.

It’s not an objective–subjective dichotomy; it’s an ignorance–knowledge dichotomy.

Furthermore, once the child custody evaluator “objectively” collects the data,  the interpretation of the data by the custody evaluator to reach their conclusions and recommendations is entirely – 100% – subjective.  The child custody evaluator is NOT required to systematically apply any of the principles or constructs from professional psychology to the interpretation of the data.  The child custody evaluator is 100% free to apply, misapply, or not apply any, some, or none of the principles and constructs of professional psychology to the data.

The clinical psychologist, on the other hand, has systematically applied a variety of standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology to the data of the family system – family systems constructs; attachment system constructs; boundary violations; personality pathology; self-psychology and psychoanalytic constructs; cognitive-behavioral constructs, developmental psychology principles, parenting skills assessment.  That’s what we do – that’s what clinical psychology is – the application of standard and established psychological principles and constructs to a data set of symptoms and interaction patterns within the family.

It’s not objective versus subjective; it’s ignorant versus knowledgeable.

So, since the “multiple roles” argument is a spurious and false creation based on a straw-man definition regarding what therapy entails, then what is the actual reason that clinical psychologists are prohibited from offering an opinion regarding the best interests of the child surrounding custody and visitation?

The Forensic Psychology Lobby

The reason clinical psychologists are prohibited from offering child custody opinions is because the forensic psychology lobby in professional psychology organizations is very strong (Division 41 of the APA: The American Psychology-Law Society – The AFCC: the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts), and the forensic psychology lobby is seeking to restrict trade in order to mandate the very lucrative practice of child custody evaluations for its membership, and clinical psychologists just haven’t felt it was important enough to us to argue about the prohibition. 

Clinical psychologists are risk-averse, and we don’t like high-conflict divorce (it’s too dangerous).  Working with narcissistic and borderline personalities (the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality) is fraught with dangers, and there’s always at least one narcissistic or borderline personality in all high-conflict divorce.  If there wasn’t at least one narcissistic or borderline personalty, then it wouldn’t be high-conflict, because normal-range parents would have empathy for their children and would never put their children through a high-conflict divorce.  A high-conflict divorce requires that at least one parent has no empathy for the children.  Clinical psychologists generally stay away from child custody and the legal entanglements surrounding high-conflict divorce because it’s all too dangerous.  Clinical psychology is more than happy to cede high-conflict divorce over to forensic psychology.

The problem is, we shouldn’t have done that.  Because the child custody reports produced by the procedures of forensic psychology are horrific.

Personally, I’ve always felt that this restriction on my ability to state a professional opinion is… well… an unconstitutional abrogation of my free speech rights – or a restraint of trade – or something.  To say that clinical psychologists cannot form or offer an opinion regarding the child’s best interests surrounding custody unless we do a formal child custody evaluation is bizarre.  We form an opinion – we have an opinion – we’re just prohibited from telling anyone.  Sounds like a restraint of trade to me, but what do I know.

But as long as I was in the ADHD and childhood trauma fields, what did I care.  I wasn’t involved in treating high-conflict divorce.  In fact, I swore to myself that I would never do high-conflict divorce.  Too dangerous.  So I just assumed that the practice of child custody evaluations was professionally competent.  After all, there’s a whole division of the APA (Division 41) that’s devoted to forensic psychology.  Surely they know what they’re doing. But that’s the secret hidden behind the veil of these custody reports being sealed by the Court.  They are horrific.  Really – really bad.  But they never receive outside review regarding their findings and conclusions.  When they are reviewed, which is infrequently because of the financial expense involved in a second review, they are only reviewed by ANOTHER forensic child custody evaluator who only reviews the evaluation to see if the proper data collection procedures were followed, NOT regarding whether the conclusions and recommendations reached were accurate.  But this internal review within forensic psychology represents a fundamental conflict of interest.  It’s all an inside club making $20,000 to $40,000 per evaluation.

In truth, the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations are no more valid that a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard.  Seriously.  That’s no exaggeration.  If there is any doubt about this, simply ask for any citation to the research literature demonstrating that the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations are any more valid that a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard.  There is none.  Zero.

So consider this…

Child custody evaluations cost between $20,000 to $40,000.  An alternative, structured Treatment Needs Assessment by a clinical psychologist would cost around $2,000 (An Alternative Assessment to Child Custody Evaluations).

So why are clinical psychologists prohibited from forming or offering child custody opinions and recommendations under threat of losing our license?  It’s seems pretty goll darn obvious to me. $20,000 to $40,000 as compared to $2,000. 

The Court doesn’t know this.  They’re trusting professional psychology (the APA and AFCC).  The licensing board doesn’t know this.  They’re trusting professional psychology (the APA and AFCC).  Even the general APA doesn’t know this, because they’re trusting the forensic psychology lobby – and it’s an inherent conflict of interest for the forensic psychology lobby since the forensic psychology lobby is working for its membership who are making $20,000 to $40,000 for each child custody evaluation.  It’s in the monetary best interests of their constituents to restrict trade so as to require child custody evaluations.

Spurious Multiple Roles

When the time comes to dismantle the arguments that opinions regarding child custody should only be made in the context of a formal custody evaluation and that the clinical psychologist role biases the clinical psychologist, I can dismantle these arguments in detail.   A key point to notice is that the moment the forensic psychology lobby raises the argument of “multiple roles” they have actually created the “multiple roles.”   The very premise of “multiple roles” is false.  There are no “multiple roles.”  This “multiple role” argument is a spurious argument designed to justify the separate role of a forensic child custody evaluator at $20,000 to $40,000 an evaluation.

In clinical psychology, an assessment begins with the referral question.  In this case, what is the question the Court wants answered? 

Referral Question:  Should the Court order a 60-40%; 70-30%; 80-20%; 90-10%; or a 50-50% custody timeshare schedule with this specific family?

A:  The answer to that question is… this referral question is beyond the scope of scientifically and theoretically supported professional practice.  There is no scientifically or theoretically established foundation or knowledge base in professional psychology that would allow a supported opinion regarding that question. 

The best that professional psychology can offer is based on the foundational premise that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents (A Solution to Assessing the Best Interests of the Child).  Based on this foundational premise, that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents, the only professionally supported recommendation from professional psychology would be for a 50-50% custody timeshare schedule (except in cases of child abuse which would warrant a child protection response).  There is no scientifically or theoretically supported information in all of professional psychology that would allow for a fine-grained differentiation of the alternative timeshare options for any specific family.

Referral Question: When there is significant family conflict surrounding the 50-50% custody timeshare (a high-conflict family), how should this family conflict for this specific family be resolved? (this is a treatment-related referral question, not a child custody issue.)

A:  A clinical psychologist should conduct a Treatment Needs Assessment regarding the treatment plan needed to resolve the family conflict, and the clinical psychologist should provide a report to the Court regarding the treatment-related needs of the family.

Q:  Can a Treatment Needs Assessment be completed by the treating clinical psychologist?

A:  Yes – if this is within the boundaries of professional competence for this clinical psychologist.

Q:  What about potential bias of the treating clinical psychologist?

A:  It is a professional expectation that psychologists in all role-relationships avoid bias and should always work in the best interests of their clients.  The effects of possible bias are limited in a Treatment Needs Assessment by the structured and targeted collection of relevant information and by the application of all of the standard and established constructs and principles of clinical psychology to the interpretation of the data, including the functioning of the attachment system when assessing attachment-related pathology, the potential impact of parental personality disorder pathology on family interactions, and standard and established family systems constructs and principles.

Q:  Can a Treatment Needs Assessment be completed by an independent clinical psychologist?

A:  Yes – if this is within the boundaries of professional competence for this clinical psychologist.

Q:  Does it make a difference if a Treatment Needs Assessment is conducted by the treating family therapist or by an independent family therapist?

A:  No.  All psychologists should function without bias and at the highest level of their craft, and all psychologists should always function in the best interests of their clients.  If either party in the spousal conflict feels uncomfortable with the treating therapist conducting a Treatment Needs Assessment then this is weird, since the treating therapist has already conducted an informal treatment needs assessment as part of developing a treatment plan (assessment leads to diagnosis, and diagnosis guides treatment).  But if either party feels uncomfortable, it’s no problem to have an independent Treatment Needs Assessment conducted by an “outside” clinical psychologist (a second opinion, if you will).

A Treatment Needs Assessment by a Clinical Psychologist: $2,000 – $3,000

A Child Custody Evaluation by a Forensic Psychologist: $20,000 – $40,000

In truth, any professional recommendation for custody other than a 50-50% child custody timeshare is beyond the scope of scientifically and theoretically grounded professional practice. 

Q:  So Dr. Childress, why do we continue with the practice of child custody evaluations? 

A:  Because Courts, and lawyers, and parents don’t know psychology.  They assume that psychologists must know what they’re doing, and because the Courts, and lawyers, and parents don’t know psychology, they can’t know that it’s all made up – after all, look at all the data that was collected, and how long and detailed the report is.

But I’m a psychologist who, because of my role as a professional psychological consultant to attorneys in these matters, has been let in behind the veil of secrecy of these sealed child custody evaluations.  I’ve read these child custody evaluations.  They are bad, bad, bad.  Horrifically, stunningly bad.  They just 100% make up their conclusions and recommendations.  I am stone cold serious.  They are bad.

They gather lots and lots of interviews, and review lots and lots of records, and talk to lots of collateral informants, and do home visits, and administer tests of various sorts – all at $250 to $300 an hour for each hour spent in gathering information.  Very lucrative.  They then spend hours and hours writing their reports, documenting the content of all of the interviews, documenting the content of all the records they reviewed, documenting the content of all their collateral contact interviews, documenting in detail their home visit observations, and reporting on the test scores obtained from testing, – page after page of documenting – documenting – documenting – all that writing time billed at $250 to $300 an hour spent writing page after page of documenting the data – 50, 100, 150 pages of writing time.  Very lucrative.

Q:  But certainly their conclusions and recommendations are based on this data, aren’t they?

A:  Nope.  They then just make up their conclusions and recommendations in whatever way they want.  Like a furniture slip-cover of their own construction, designed to roughly resemble the piece of furniture being covered, but not necessarily reflecting the actual color of the underlying furniture.  The slip-cover that’s constructed by the custody evaluator can be blue, or green, or yellow, while the actual furniture is red.

When it comes to interpreting what the data means and forming recommendations, custody evaluators are 100% free to apply, misapply, or not apply any, some, or none of the established constructs and principles of professional psychology to the interpretation of the data in whatever way they want.  They just make it up.

And, in truth, they only spend about two or three hours writing up the conclusions and recommendations section of the report (what is that, around a $1,000 worth of time?) and they bill $30,000 for all the time they spent collecting data and documenting the data they collected in their exhaustive report.

It’s a racket, pure and simple.  And by offering Guidelines for the practice of child custody evaluations (AFCC Guidelines; APA Guidelines), the AFCC and APA provide their imprimatur of credibility to the practice of child custody evaluations.  In providing Guidelines for the practice of child custody evaluations, the AFCC and APA effectively become the organizing syndicates for the racket, and the custody evaluators represent the soldiers raking in the money – money extorted from desperate parents via the legal system, extorted by Court order.  I find that amazing.  An extortion syndicate by Court order.

It’s the professionally sanctioned financial exploitation of an immensely vulnerable population that I find most repugnant and professionally abhorrent.

The forensic psychology lobby prohibits clinical psychologists from offering opinions on child custody so that Courts are forced to order expensive child custody evaluations – based on the professional standards of the APA and AFCC (as codified in the official Guidelines written by the powerful forensic psychology lobby).  Then these evaluations are sealed by the Court so that they are never subject to review, and if they are challenged they must be challenged by another forensic evaluator who comments on whether the appropriate procedures for data collection were followed, not on whether an accurate interpretation of the data was made.  Yet having another forensic child custody evaluator review the work of the original forensic child custody evaluator – besides being prohibitively expensive – represents an inherent conflict of interest.  They “review” themselves.  The fox is in charge of the hen house.

The Solution is Standard Clinical Psychology

The “multiple roles” argument is 100% bulls***.   All psychologists in any capacity should function without bias.  We are professionals.  All psychologists in any capacity should serve the best interests of the client.  To ascribe to clinical psychologists that we are inherently biased because of our role as treating psychologists is complete 100% cow pucky.

It is an artificially imposed dichotomy framed as “subjective” versus “objective” – but this dichotomy is actually knowledgeable versus ignorant.  Ignorant is not “objective,” ignorant is just ignorant.

The treating clinical psychologist – or any clinical psychologist applying the principles of clinical psychology, including clinical assessment principles, knowledge of the attachment system, knowledge of family systems constructs, knowledge of personality disorder pathology – is knowledgeable.

The child custody evaluator, on the other hand, is completely ignorant regarding the family’s structure and relationship patterns (in which this ignorance is framed as the supposed virtue of “objectivity”) and is then trying to get up to speed regarding understanding the family from the baseline of complete and total ignorance – and the child custody evaluator is trying to overcome this starting point of complete ignorance (supposedly granting them “objectivity”) without being required by professional standards of practice to apply in any systematic way any of the principles and constructs of professional psychology.

Holy cow.  Just let me do a clinical assessment.  Assessment – diagnosis – treatment.  Assessment leads to diagnosis, and diagnosis guides treatment.  It’s what clinical psychologists do.  It’s our craft.  It’s our profession.

And by “me” I’m referring to the generic “me” – i.e., a competent clinical psychologist.  Any clinical psychologist with a modicum of specific instruction can conduct a Treatment Needs Assessment.  It’s just a focused variant of a standard clinical assessment – history and symptom information (using Applied Behavioral Analysis “behavior chain” sequences and identifying the “stimulus control” for the behavior), add the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the Parenting Practices Rating Scale, and apply standard constructs and principles from attachment theory regarding attachment related pathology, from personality disorder literature to personality disorder pathology evidenced in the family, and from the family systems literature regarding the functioning of this particular family system.  Standard clinical psychology stuff.

If you want to know what’s going on, let me (i.e., any competent clinical psychologist) conduct a clinical assessment.  This will lead to a clinical diagnosis regarding the issues, and the clinical psychologist can tell you exactly what needs to happen for treatment (i.e., the treatment plan).  This is standard clinical psychology stuff.

In cases of alleged “parental alienation,” if you want me (or any competent clinical psychologist) to determine whether there is psychological child abuse (pathogenic parenting) that warrants a child protection response, that can be accomplished through a focused Treatment Needs Assessment.

However, if you want me to determine which spouse in the inter-spousal conflict is the “better parent” who should be awarded a larger share of the “custody prize” of the child… Sorry, can’t help you there.  Doing that is beyond the professional scope of scientifically and theoretically grounded professional practice.

If you want to divide up the “custody prize” of the child amidst an inter-spousal dispute, the best I can tell you, based on the totality of the scientific and theoretical literature, is that children benefit from complex relationships with both parents.  Based on this scientifically and theoretically grounded understanding, the only recommendation I can offer regarding a child custody timeshare schedule is a 50-50% custody timeshare shared between both parents (unless there is child abuse that warrants a child protection response).

If there is family conflict surroundiing the 50-50% custody timeshare, that is a treatment related issue, not a child custody issue (unless there is child abuse that warrants a child protection response).

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

References Cited

Barber, B.K. (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.

Kerig, P.K. (2005). Revisiting the construct of boundary dissolution: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5, 5-42.

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder.  New York, NY: Guilford

Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563.

2 thoughts on “The Child Custody Industry in Mental Health”

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