Psychological Testing in Custody Cases

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If you are fighting for custody of your children, chances are you have met with at least one mental health professional for an evaluation of your parenting skills and have undergone interviews and possibly psychological testing that is designed to provide further information about each parent's ability to parent. 

One of the most popular tests, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory ("MMPI-2") was designed "to identify psychological disorders and to evaluate cognitive functioning…this test, by itself, cannot tell an evaluator who the better parent will be." (Attorney Alvah O. Smith, writing in "Psychological Testing in Custody Evaluations: Cross Examining the Court-Appointed Custodial Evaluator," published in Family Law, Law Education Institute, Inc., Milwaukee, WI, 2004.) Smith also states in the same article that the Rorschach Inkblot Test is "highly subjective" and subject to heated debate, although frequently used in custody evaluations.

Custody evaluators use a variety of other tests, incuding:

  • The Millon Clinical MultiAxial Inventory (MCMMI-3), which is used to find personality disorders based on the respondent's answers to 175 true/false questions.
  • The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), similar to the Rorschach Test, asks the respondent to describe what he or she sees when viewing 31 black and white drawings of people. The responses supposedly reveal personality.
  • The Bricklin Perceptual Scales (BPS) was designed specifically for custody evaluations and is made up of 64 questions for the child about the parents; picture-drawing by the child of the family, each parent and the child; the child completing a story about how the family resolves disputes; and finally questions for the parents. Smith states that the test's validity has been seriously questioned.
  • The Ackerman-Schoedorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody (ASPECT) includes a variety of tests, including the MMPI-2, IQ testing for the parents and child, a draw-a-person component and the TAT, as well as interviews of the parents. Like the BPS Test, ASPECT has also been sharply criticized.

Testing is only one tool, often a short cut, for gathering and assessing information. Evaluators may rely more heavily upon interviews with the parents, children and sometimes with teachers, pediatricians, babysitters and other important people in the lives of the family, such as stepparents, siblings and grandparents. But if the evaluator believes that friends and family are biased, they may skip those interviews.

The final word, however, always belongs to the court: not the evaluator. But, it's important to note that most judges give alot of deference to the custody evaluator's findings, since the evalutor actually spent time with the family and has, hopefully, taken a careful approach to the final recommendation. Court's carefully consider the evaluator's report and recommendations. Thus, it's best to be sincere and cooperative when you meet with a custody evaluator.

If you're in the middle of a custody battle and are set to meet with a custody evaluator, it's a good idea to consult with an experienced family law attorney beforehand.

Updated by: , Attorney

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