Family Law

Family Law News Issue 1, 2019, Volume 41, No. 1

Two Views on the Use of Psychological Testing in Child Custody Evaluations

Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. and Daniel B. Pickar, Ph.D.

Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized leader in forensic psychology consulting in the area of child custody disputes and family law. Dr. Simon provides work product review, expert witness services and litigation support services to attorneys throughout the country on child custody matters. He trains judges, mental health professionals and attorneys on various forensic topics nationally and internationally. He is the co-author of the recently released book entitled "Forensic Psychology Consulting in Child Custody Litigation: A Handbook for Work Product Review, Case Preparation, and Expert Testimony’ published by the American Bar Association. Dr. Simon is on the Board of Directors of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, a member of the Board of Directors of the World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and a member of the Executive Committee of the California Bar Court. He serves on the editorial board of the Family Court Review. He is licensed in California and Hawaii.

Daniel B. Pickar, PhD, ABPP is board-certified child psychologist who conducts child custody evaluations, mediation, consultation to family law attorneys, and psycho-educational evaluations of children. For 12 years, he served as the Chief of Child and Family Psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, California, as well as served as the Director of Postdoctoral Training in Clinical Psychology for 5 years. He has published numerous journal articles and book chapters in the areas of child custody evaluation, mediation, special needs children in divorce, and served on the editorial board of the Journal of Child Custody for 6 years. He regularly presents workshops at state and national AFCC and AAML conferences and serves on the conference committee of AFCC.

Child Custody Evaluations are forensically informed evaluations of families in which the best interests of children are at issue before the court. When properly done, child custody evaluations employ a multi-method, multi-modal approach to gathering data and making inferences. This approach is essential in forensic work because one of the hallmarks of forensic work is looking for convergence of data of different types from different sources, or, the lack of such convergence. Psychological testing is a data source that is quite frequently used by custody evaluators as a part of their data gathering. For example, Bow and Quinnel,1 found that 91% of evalu-ators use psychological testing as a part of their data gathering practices.2 Quinnel and Bow3 report on which tests are used and how often they are used. Clearly, the use of psychological tests is a common practice in child custody evaluations even though no practice standards or guidelines mandate the use of testing. Further, because it is commonly used, does not mean that they should (or should not) be used so broadly.

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