For lawyers, litigants with a psychological history often present more complex cases in terms of client communication and bringing the client to an understanding of the risks, benefits and possible negative outcomes in the event of custody litigation. The assistance of an evaluating psychologist or other professional can be invaluable. Click here for more information.
Sometimes when a client feels that the court Family Relations Officer has not given him or her an adequate opportunity to explain the situation, it is helpful to have an independent evaluator appointed to give the client an additional opportunity to bring to the attention of a professional the problems that he or she perceives. Sometimes the process itself assists a client in coming to terms with the issues of the custody and visitation matter, by giving the client additional opportunity to be heard. The additional input and authority can be helpful in settling the case, even if it doesn’t differ from the recommendation of the court Family Relations office.
Typically, the evaluator will be permitted by the parties to communicate with the court Family Relations Officer, and the attorney for the minor children or guardian ad litem. In this way, each professional can assist the others in understanding the total picture of the family, and family dynamics. It should be underscored, however, that neither Family Relations nor independent evaluations are confidential; the court is entitled to full information contained in the evaluation.
Evaluators are most effective when one neutral professional is agreed upon by both parties. When choosing an evaluator, find someone with the appropriate background and experience. The parents of the family being evaluated are in a state of extreme emotional turmoil, yet they will be trying to make the best impression possible. The children may feel torn between two parents who cannot separate adult issues from children’s issues in the dispute. The evaluator you choose must be prepared for these conditions. He or she must therefore have a thorough understanding of the boundary issues that must be kept clear in a custody evaluation. The antidote is experience, training, and absolute integrity on the evaluator’s part.
It is helpful if the evaluator has experience testifying in court. Of course, even the most talented professional once had no experience, so this is not a prohibition for the selection process, but a witness who knows how to handle himself or herself can be crucial if a trial is involved. Equally important as other aspects, choose an evaluator with whom your attorney can work. The evaluator should not be a “hired gun” who will automatically testify for a client based on a personal relationship with the attorney, or who is known for personal biases (e.g., for mothers or for fathers). Rather, the lawyer should trust that the evaluator’s opinion is sound and will hold up under scrutiny. Respect between the professionals involved in your case can also help settle the case, as they guide you based on what they learn from each other. Click here for another terrific article.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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