Crisis In The Family Courts

THE REAL COST OF APPOINTEES IN FAMILY COURT By Nancy S. Erickson, J.D., LL.M., M.A. (Forensic Psychology)

Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on February 23, 2010

Battered Mothers Custody Conference, Jan. 2010



By Nancy S. Erickson, J.D., LL.M., M.A. (Forensic Psychology)

By appointing these “professionals” in custody cases, the judge is removing from the court certain costs and responsibilities and placing the costs on other governmental institutions or on the parent(s) and the responsibilities on attorneys or MHPs.

Attorney for the parent: Usually a parent retains an attorney on her own, but in some states (e.g., NY) the court may appoint counsel to indigent parents in custody and DV cases.

Attorney for the child: sometimes called law guardian or counsel for the child.

Guardian ad Litem (GAL): Child’s adult representative for the litigation. Does not need to be an attorney, but often is. The role of the GAL is often poorly defined.

Custody evaluator: sometimes called “expert” or “forensic expert.” Usually a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, mental health counselor, or other mental health practitioner (MHP). The court may or may not define the evaluator’s role.

Visitation Supervisor: An individual who supervises visitation (or visitation exchanges) with a parent who may pose a danger to a child or the other parent.

Therapeutic visitation superviser: Typically a MHP; role may be to reintroduce to a child, in a safe place, a parent who has abused or abandoned a child, or to guide a parent in how to visit without psychologically harming the child, etc.

Therapist: For child or a parent.

Parenting coordinator: Individual, usually a MHP or an attorney, who acts somewhat in the role of a judge to handle what the court considers minor disputes regarding parenting. This individual may be assigned while the case is going on or after the case is completed (for problems that arise later).


Dore, Margaret (2006). Court-Appointed Parenting Evaluators and Guardians ad Litem: Practical Realities and an Argument for Abolition, Divorce Litigation, 18(4), 53-60.

Copyright c 2010 Nancy S. Erickson. All Rights Reserved.

Neustein, Amy, & Lesher, Michael(2005). From madness to mutiny: Why mothers are running from the family courts – and what can be done about it. Boston: Northeastern University Press. Chapters 5 & 7 deal with custody evaluators; chapter 11 deals with counsel for children.


A. Guidelines and Rules

Guidelines and Rules Set by National Organizations

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (1997). Practice parameters for child custody evaluation. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 57S-68S (10 Supplement). Washington, D.C.: Author. [currently being revised].

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct.

American Psychological Association. (1994). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in divorce proceedings. American Psychologist, 49, 677-680. [in effect 1994-2008].

American Psychological Association. (2009). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in family law proceedings.

American Psychological Association ad hoc Committee on Legal and Ethical issues in the Treatment of Interpersonal Violence (1997). Professional, ethical, and legal issues concerning interpersonal violence, maltreatment, and related trauma. Washington, D.C.: Author.

American Psychological Association Committee on Ethical

Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists. (1991). Specialty guidelines for forensic psychologists. Law and Human Behavior, 15, 655-665. [currently being revised].

Most States Also Have Rules/Guidelines – Examples:

California Rules of Court, Title 5, Special Rules for Trial

Courts, Rules 5.220 (court-ordered child custody evaluations), 5.225 (training for evaluators), 5.230 (domestic violence training for evaluators). [currently being revised].

New York State Board for Psychology. (1997). Guidelines for child custody evaluations. Albany, NY: Author.

B. Child Custody Evaluations: General

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed, text rev.). Washington, D.C.: Author. [currently being revised]

Benjamin, G. A., & Gollan, J.K. (2003). Family evaluation in custody litigation: Reducing risks of ethical infractions and malpractice. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Bow, J., Flens, J., Gould, J., & Greenhut, D. (2005b). An analysis of administration, scoring, and

interpretation of the MMPI-2 and MCMI-II/III in child custody evaluations. Journal of Child Custody 2(4), 1-22.

Bow, J., & Quinnell, F. A. (2001). Psychologists’current practices and procedures in child

custody evaluations: Five years after American Psychological Association guidelines. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 32, 261–268 (average cost of custody evaluation: $3,335).

Bowermaster, J. (2002). Legal Presumptions and the Role of Mental Health Professionals in Child Custody Proceedings. Duquesne University Law Review 40, 265-311.

Brodzinsky, D. (1993). On the use and misuse of psychological testing in child custody evaluations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24, 213-219.

Dallam, S.J. & Silberg, J.L. (2006). Myths that place children at risk during custody disputes. Sexual Assault Report, 9(3), 33-34 & 42-47.

Dore, Margaret (2006). See above.

Emery, R., Otto, R., & O’Donohue, W. (2005). A critical assessment of child custody evaluations: Limited science and a flawed system. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 6, 1-29.

Greenberg, S.A. & Shuman, D.W. (1997). Irreconcilable conflict between therapeutic and forensic roles. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 28, 50-57.

Horvath, L., Logan, T., & Walker, R. (2002). Child Custody Cases: A content analysis of evaluations in practice. Professional psychology: Research and practice, 33, 557-565. Concluded that “evaluators frequently neglected assessment of domestic violence and child abuse….”

Kates, E. J. (2007). Reevaluating the Evaluators: Rethinking the Assumptions of Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Family Courts, National Network on Family Law Policy research draft published at The Liz Library liznotes,, accessed September 18, 2009. A MUST READ!

Krause, D. & Sales, B. (2000). Legal standards, expertise, and experts in the resolution of contested child custody cases. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 6, 843-879.

Martindale, D.A. (2001). Cross-examining mental health experts in child custody litigation. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 29, 483-511.

Matrimonial Commission Report to the Chief Judge of the State of New York (February, 2006). [Child Custody Evaluators are discussed a
t pages 46-53 of the main volume, and the California rules governing child custody evaluators are reproduced at App. I.]

Melton, G., Petrila, J., Poythress, N., & Slobogin, C. (2d Ed. 2007. Psychological evaluations for the courts: A handbook for mental health professionals and lawyers.(3d ed.). New York: Guilford Press. A well-respected textbook/reference book that is highly critical of the way custody evaluations currently are being done.

Neustein, A., & Lesher, M.(2005). See above.

Otto, R.K., Edens, J.F., & Barcus, E.H. (2000). The use of psychological testing in child custody evaluations. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 312-340.

Schafran, L.H. (2003) Evaluating the evaluators: Problems with outside neutrals. The Judge’s Journal, 42, 10-15 & 38.

Tippins, T. & Wittman, J.P.(2005). Empirical and ethical problems with custody recommendations: A call for clinical humility and judicial vigilance. Family Court Review, 43, 193-222.

C. Child Custody Evaluations; Domestic Violence and Parental Alienation (invented by Richard Gardner, deceased) and often used in DV or child sex abuse cases against mothers)

Bancroft, L. & Silverman, J. (2002). The batterer as parent. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Dalton, C., Drozd, L., & Wong, F. (2004, rev’d 2006). Navigating custody and visitation evaluations in cases with domestic violence: A judge’s guide. Reno, NV: Nat’l Council of

Juvenile & Family Court Judges. Available at A MUST READ!

Erickson, N.S.(2005). Use of the MMPI-2 in custody evaluations involving domestic violence. Family Law Quarterly, 39, 87-108. In this article, I cite the studies that show that, based on the MMPI, custody evaluators may misdiagnose battered women.

Erickson, N.S. & Zorza, J. (2005). Evaluating the Handling of Domestic Violence Cases by Custody Evaluators. Domestic Violence Report, 10(4), 49-50 & 62-63.

Geffner, R., Geis, K., & Aranda, B. (2006). Family violence allegations in child custody evaluations: The overlap of family and forensic psychology. The Family Psychologist, 22 (Spring), 9-14.

Kelly, R. & Ramsey, S. (2009). Child custody evaluations: The need for systems-level outcome assessments. Family Court Review, 47 (2), 286-303. Authors urge studies of whether custody evaluations lead to best results for children.

The Leadership Council is the best source for critiques of “Parental Alienation” theory.

D. Psychological Effects of Abuse on the Victim and on Children

American Bar Association. (1994). The impact of domestic violence on children. Chicago, IL: Author.

American Psychological Association (1996). Violence and the family: Report of the American Psychological Association presidential task force on violence and the family. Washington,D.C.: APA. VERY IMPORTANT (get from APA)

Bancroft & Silverman, above.

Dutton, M.A. (1992). Assessment and treatment of PTSD among battered women. In D. Foy (Ed.), Treating PTSD: Procedures for combat veterans, battered women, adult and child sexual assaults. New York: Guilford Press.

Herman, J.L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

Herman, J.L. (1992). Complex PTSD: A syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 5, 377-391.

Holden, G., Geffner, R., & Jouriles, E. (eds.). (1998). Children exposed to marital violence: Theory, research, and applied issues. Washington, D.C.: APA

Morrell, J. & Rubin, L. (2001). The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2, posttraumatic stress disorder, and women domestic violence survivors. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 32, 151-156.

E Some Tools that Could be Used by CCEs (but usually are not) to Assess For Domestic Violence

American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence. (2005). Tool for attorneys to screen for domestic violence. Available at

Campbell, J.C. (1995). Assessing the risk of dangerousness: Potential for further violence of sexual offenders, batterers, and child abusers. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. [the “DA” (Danger Assessment)Also see other works by Campbell].

Geffner, R., Geis, K., & Aranda, B. (2006). See above.

[discusses how to do a thorough assessment for DV, including the “Spouse Abuse Identification Questionnaire” that Geffner and Pagelow devised].

Hare, R.D. (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (2nd

Ed.) Toronto, ON,Canada: Multi-Health Systems (manual for the PCL-R, which is used to assess whether an individual is a psychopath, a/k/a sociopath).

Kropp, P.R., Hart, S.D., Wester, C.D. & Eaves, D. (1999).

Spousal assault risk assessment guide. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Multi-Health Systems and B.C. Institute against Family Violence. [The “SARA”].

William, K. & Houghton, A. (2004). Assessing the risk of domestic violence reoffending: A validation study. Law and Human Behavior, 28 (4) 411-35[A study of the reliability and validity of the Domestic Violence Screening Instrument (DVSI) Colorado, 1998].

F New York Cases Involving DV and Custody Evaluations

Wissink v. Wissink, 749 N.Y.S.2d 550 (2d Dept. 2002). (Appeals

court reversed trial court decision awarding custody to the abuser and remanded for a comprehensive psychological evaluation). Discussed in Reichler, J. & Erickson, N. (2003). Custody, domestic violence,and a child’s preference. New York Law Journal, April 24, 2003, p. 1 & 6.


Dore, Margaret (2006), above, under “General.”

DuCote, Richard (2002). Guardians ad litem in private custody litigation: The case for abolition.

Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law, 3, 106-151.

Neustein, Amy, & Lesher, Michael(2005), above, under “General."


Special Issue of the Journal of Child Custody (2008), Vol. 5 (1/2). One article in this symposium describes PCs as having a “new, hybrid legal/psychological role … distinct in its elements from traditional roles in the family court… and therapeutic roles ….[The PC]provides a unique combination of legal authority, specialized knowledge and availability to high conflict families.” Sullivan, J. (2008). Coparenting and the parenting coordination process. Journal of Child Custody, 5(1/2), 4-24, at 5-6. [Does “high conflict” equal/include DV?]


Can be invaluable if the parent being supervised is a danger to the children, such as an abuser. However, many protective parents who are found “guilty” of so-called parental alienation are ordered to visit only under supervision, which is a misuse of supervised visitation personnel.

COURT-ORDERED THERAPY: Parent as Prisoner?

Query: If a court orders a parent to go to therapy and orders the therapist to report back to the court, what happened to therapist-patient confidentiality?

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