Psychological Evaluations: Why should I request one?

The psychological evaluation is often the most important document for a parent in a divorce case. Yet the manner in which psychologists create these reports is difficult to understand, even for many family lawyers. In this multi-part series, we will examine psychological evaluations, one of the most important tools the Courts use to determine custody and visitation. In this first part, we will discuss one of the most important questions when it comes to such evaluations: Why should I request one?


In most divorce cases, one party files a motion to establish initial orders for custody and visitation. The Court sets the matter, usually as a 20 minute hearing, and the parties are referred to Family Court Services in San Diego (called Child Custody Recommending Counseling in Riverside County). At a session with a social worker, the counselor either memorializes the agreement between the parents or, if the parents cannot agree, the counselor drafts a recommendation to the court.

Here’s something that a lot of parents have difficulty grasping: the current system institutionally supports the status quo. This is not necessarily a bad thing and it actually makes sense when you consider that stability and continuity is very important for children. If Mom is a homemaker and takes care of the kids during the day while dad works long hours, all other things being equal, mom should probably have a larger timeshare with the children.

If the family court system had a motto, it might be, “If it’s not broken don’t fix it.” The problem is, many times, the status quo is not in the children’s best interest and the problems with the status quo are not easily brought to the attention of the Court. If one parent has serious psychological issues or if one parent is alienating the child from the other parent, 20 minutes in a courtroom or one hour in a session with a social worker is not going to reveal these problems. Without more information, the Court could make an unwise decision.

This is where a psychological evaluation can really make a difference. Such an evaluation seeks to look at the important family dynamics at play. Psychological testing can reveal serious psychological disorders that bear directly on parental fitness. Detailed and child focused interviews allow the evaluator to assess what the problems are in the family. Watching interactions between parent and child can shed light by showing how the child acts differently in front of each parent. Evaluating documents like police reports, child welfare service reports, and school progress reports are things that cannot be done in the courtroom without a lot of time and effort. These are some of the things that make a psychological evaluation desirable.

Deciding whether your are a candidate for court sponsored mediation or a more intensive psychological evaluation requires the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.  The decisions made about child custody issues early in a case can have a long standing impact on a parent’s relationship with their child.  Before making any decision about custody and visitation, discuss your rights with a qualified attorney.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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