The practice of child custody evaluations in forensic psychology are in violation of multiple standards of the Ethical Code of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association, including Principle D Justice.
Principle D Justice: The excessive expense and absence of inter-rater reliability with child custody evaluations violates Principle D Justice that ensures equal access and equal quality of services.
Denial of Equal Access: Child custody evaluations cost between $20,000 to $40,000 per evaluation, which denies equal access to professional input on their family conflict to families that cannot afford such a significant financial expense.
Denial of Equal Quality: Child custody evaluations have zero inter-rater reliability, meaning that two different evaluators can reach two entirely different conclusions and sets of recommendations based on the same data. The absence of inter-rater reliability in child custody evaluations denies equal quality in services.
Standard 2.01a Competence: The individual custody evaluators often lack professional competence in the required domains of professional knowledge; attachment pathology, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, and the neuro-development of the brain in the parent-child relationship (e.g., Bowlby, Minuchin, Beck, van der Kolk, Tronick). This represents a violation of Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code regarding practice beyond the boundaries of competence.
Standard 2.04 Basis for Professional Judgements: The failure of child custody evaluators to possess knowledge (attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, neuro-development in childhood) means that they fail to apply the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline,” in violation of Standard 2.04 of the APA ethics code.
Standard 9.01 Assessment: Their failure to know and apply knowledge results in an assessment that is not “sufficient to sufficient to substantiate their findings” in violation of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code.
Standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm: Recommendations from custody evaluations that limit a parent’s time and involvement with their child below the maximum possible harms the targeted parent. This is a violation of Standard 3.04a of the APA ethics code requiring psychologists to avoid harming clients.
Standard 2.03 Maintaining Competence: Failure to know the necessary knowledge from attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, and the neuro-development of the brain in the parent-child relationship represents a failure to “undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence.”
The practice of child custody evaluations violates multiple Standards of the APA ethics code, including Principle D Justice that requires equal access and equal quality in services.
Duty to Protect
The family pathology that seeks a child custody evaluation often involves the IPV spousal abuse (Intimate Partner Violence; “domestic violence”) of the ex-spouse/targeted parent by other spouse-and-parent using the child as the weapon.
In weaponizing the child into the spousal conflict, the allied parent in a cross-generational coalition with the child against the other parent (Minuchin) creates such significant pathology in the child (i.e., a persecutory delusional disorder; Shared Psychotic Disorder, ICD-10 F24) that it rises to the level of a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.
Child custody evaluations do not assess for the IPV spousal abuse of using the child as the weapon, and therefore fail in their duty to protect the targeted parent from a savage and brutal emotional spousal abuse from their ex-spouse, who is using the child as the weapon.
Child custody evaluations do not assess for the DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse by the allied parent in a cross-generational coalition with the child against the targeted parent, and therefore fail in their duty to protect the child from psychological child abuse by the pathology of the allied parent.
Responsibility & Accountability
The practice of child custody evaluation needs to end. It is unethical, and child custody evaluators are failing in their duty to protect on two separate and independent counts.
Parents in the family courts, as a class of people, have been substantially harmed by the practice of child custody evaluation as supported by Division 41 of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).
To the extent that the AFCC has created a Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluations, they provide their imprimatur of legitimacy for the practice of child custody evaluations, and the AFCC should therefore reasonably be held directly accountable for the practice of child custody evaluations in forensic psychology.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857