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Study Examines Ethical Violations in Child Custody Evaluations

Being away from your child is never easy. If you are not the custodial parent, you can sometimes feel you are being forced out of their life against your will.

Due to the influence of the long-dead Tender Years Presumption, family law courts still tend to favor women over man when deciding child custody. Despite efforts being made to install shared parenting presumptions, unless proven otherwise, mothers still receive preferential treatment in the decisions, affecting fathers and their relationships with their parents.

These issues, along with many others that affect fathers and the amount of time that they get to spend with their children, are ethical concerns that many feel need to be addressed. This starts with the court-appointed child custody evaluators assigned to cases and the focus of many ethical issues.

Child custody evaluations

A study from Alliant International University that was published in the Journal of Child Custody examined what can and does go wrong in child custody evaluations and the ethical problems that can arise.

The study brings up several ethical concerns that many who have dealt with child custody evaluations have. One of the most important concerns that many have is regarding competence. The study states that child custody evaluators need to conduct an initial screen or obtain the necessary information to assess whether or not they are competent to complete the evaluation.

Removal and concerns

There are a variety of reasons why a child custody evaluator would remove themselves from a case. If the evaluator believes that the case would benefit from psychological testing that they are not equipped or qualified to do, they would need to refer that part of the evaluation to a competent professional and consult with the psychologist to understand the outcomes and how to incorporate the outcomes into the overall findings.

If a case requires a high level of cultural concerns, the evaluator would need to make sure that they have access to an interpreter, knowledge of that culture, and the ability to consult with experts of that culture.

If a case involves allegations of neglect, family violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, or partner abuse, attorneys are more likely to ask for a child custody evaluation. The evaluator would need to familiarize themselves with the laws of the state, in regards to the issue. The researchers stress that merely taking one or two workshops on the topic does not qualify someone to have expertise to evaluate these types of cases.

If these and other similar concerns are not addressed, the evaluator would need to recuse themselves from the given case. Understanding every facet of the given case means that you can provide an educated judgment when called upon, and that requires competency.

Consent and assent

Another concern that is important to monitor is regarding informed consent and assent. When a child custody evaluator makes initial contact, extensive information needs to be outlined to both sides regarding their qualifications and role, limits of confidentiality, policies, fees, and procedures.

Those meeting with a court-appointed child custody evaluator need to understand that anything they say, in response to their questions, could be put into a report that is shared with the judge and court.

While the evaluator has the ability to put what is said into the report, they are required to provide consent and assent forms for each person involved to sign. According to a study published in the Professional Psychology: Research and Practice journal, 75 percent of evaluators overlook providing consent and assent forms to sign and do not document the informed consent and assent process in their reports.

This limits both parties in the child custody situation from understanding the limits of confidentiality and how it varies from the standard limits of patient-therapist-confidentiality.

Interview and protection

During the interview process, the evaluators are required to be nonjudgmental, neutral, and familiar with the case and documents. They should be focused on assessing several variables that could relate to current parenting attributes. Additionally, children older than the age of five should be interviewed by the evaluator. Both the interview with the child and the interview with the parents have the potential to go poorly if the evaluator does not follow their guidelines.

These guidelines create the necessary parameters for the child custody evaluation process, aiding the court in making an informed decision. However, if it is not properly handled by a professional dedicated to seeing the child placed in the best situation possible, these guidelines can help mask any errors or improper actions taken during the evaluation process.

Men's Rights Editor

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