Child custody cases in a divorce often get complicated. A number of tools exist to help unravel the complexity and to give clarity to the process. One of these tools is the child custody evaluation, the purpose of which is to determine the psychological bests interests of the child. Understanding the role of the psychologist in this process may provide insight to all parties.
Each child custody case is unique, and the scope of a each evaluation depends on a particular case and on specific issues. According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists in a child custody evaluation should try to employ a wide range of data gathering. Some of these methods include psychological testing, clinical interviews and observation of behavior. Access to a variety of documentary sources such as reports from schools, health care providers and pertinent agencies often plays a role in the evaluation. Additional data gathering is likely to include discussions with the extended family, friends and acquaintances. The next step involves interpretation of the gathered data. Since a child custody dispute has the potential to influence responses, the psychologist must take this factor into account.
In addition to weighing the biases and emotions of interested parties, the psychologist, according the American Psychological Association, should consider and monitor his or her own values. When desirable, peer consultation may reveal instances of impartiality on behalf of the psychologist. It is important that the psychologist adheres to professional boundaries and relies on standard assessment procedures. If a professional is unable to overcome his or her biases in a case, the person should withdraw from the case and inform the courts.