In the midst of a New York divorce case, father David Schorr gave his son a common ultimatum when his son demanded McDonald's for dinner - "you can have dinner from anywhere besides McDonald's or have no dinner at all". In response, the stubborn five-year-old decided to have no dinner at all and threw a tantrum. Schorr immediately regretted the harsh position he had taken with his son but felt it was inappropriate to back down in response to his child's outburst. While trying to convince his son to change his mind, Schorr took his son back to his mother's house early and waited for her to return home.
In the Schorr divorce, the court appointed a neutral psychologist to evaluate the parenting abilities of both parents in the context of the best interest of the child. The psychologist recommended that, considering the "McDonald's incident," the Court should eliminate or limit Schorr's weekend visits with his son. During the pendency of the divorce, Schorr has alternating weekend visits with his son and dinner with him each Tuesday. In response to the psychologist's statements, Schorr has filed a lawsuit against her for defamation. As the suit was filed in early November, there is little information available regarding its progress.
During the pendency of a divorce action where child custody and visitation is a disputed issue, each party's parenting is under strict scrutiny. In the Schorr case, one father's attempt to teach his son discipline cost him time with his child. It is hard to imagine that legal parenting tactics such as spanking (within reason) and other various forms of discipline can result in a parent losing custody of his or her child. Outside of the parameters of a divorce case, if a problem is reported to authorities, such parenting decisions would be evaluated by Child Protective Services ("CPS") rather than a court-appointed psychologist. It is not likely CPS would have removed a child from his father's care based on the McDonald's event described above. This is a cautionary tale for all parents involved in a custody dispute, even one "mistake" could cost you valuable time with your children.
In a California custody case, the court, the parties, or the attorneys have the ability to request a neutral evaluation be conducted by a mental health professional (like in the Schorr case). If both sides agree a neutral is needed, they can stipulate (agree) to appoint an evaluator without Court intervention. Generally, once the evaluation is complete, the evaluator will prepare a report outlining his or her findings. The expert's report may be read by both parties and the judge in the case.