While struggling through the many twists and turns of a child custody case, you may encounter a term that seems ripped from television drama: forensic evaluation. Today the word “forensic” is most often associated with a crime, but its origin is from Latin and simply means “in open court,” or “public.” A court may order a forensic evaluation to determine the relationship between, and temperaments of, a parent and child. It does not involve fingerprint dusting, chalk outlines or any of those CSI TV tropes.
Preparation & Mental Health Interview
Forensic evaluations mean a court-appointed psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health expert is going to be hitting the books. School records, medical records and other documents could be examined. The interviewer will also give you, the Dad, and your children some tests. These are not tests to study for — nobody cares if you know the capital of Djibouti (yeah, yeah, — it’s Djibouti City). These are questions to gain a glimpse into your child’s (and your) inner thoughts.
The mental health interviewer will try to make your child relaxed and comfortable, often by having an interview room stocked with children’s books, toys and board games. Through play, the examiner questions your child on various aspects of the parent-child relationship:
- “Who helps you get ready for bed?”
- “Do you ever see Mommy and Daddy mad at other?”
- “Where were you on the night of February 31st, 1807?” — nah, we’re just playin’
- “What kinds of things do you and Daddy like to do together?”
- “If you had to spend more time with either Mommy or Daddy, who would you pick? Why?”
- “Where did you go on vacation last? Tell me about seeing Mickey.”
The mental health expert could also ask very young children to draw pictures showing the family. These pictures might be free-form, but usually the interviewer will ask for pictures of the family at meal times, doing something fun, or getting ready in the mornings. These give insight into how your child views each parent’s role.
What Kind of Tests Will Be Done?
A thorough forensic evaluation should include the child’s life history, recommends the American Bar Association (ABA):
“To truly understand who a parent is and how he/she “arrived” at where the parent is today, a competent evaluator should demonstrate that he or she understands the events that led up to the current crisis.”
Expect the interviewer to perform some psychological testing. Based on the qualifications of the tester, these could include:
- Cognitive functioning tests
- Objective personality tests
- Projective personality tests
- Parenting assessment tests
Verify that the tester is certified and competent to administer any of these psychological tests. For example, a psychiatrist (a medical doctor) can do all of these tests with known reliability; a licensed social worker may lack credentials to perform some of them.
Who Else Can a Forensic Evaluator Interview?
Forensic evaluators will not just interview you and your child. They may call in (or simply telephone) other adults who are familiar with your child. The questions can extend to your child’s pediatrician, relatives, childcare providers, school guidance counselors, and any therapists or marriage counselors you and your ex-wife might have seen.
This all seems very intrusive, but is necessary for a Virginia judge to say without any doubt that the child’s best interests are being preserved by giving custody to you or to your ex-wife. Do not attempt to coach or prepare anyone scheduled to be interviewed. Trust in your reputation and the forensic evaluator.
At some point in the series of interviews (yes, you can expect multiple sessions), the psychiatrist or psychologist will interview you with your child, to observe the dynamics between you. Have no fear of getting your child to be perfect. In fact, a child who seems a little too prepared will work against you.
At some point your child is likely to say something surprising. That is what kids do — it is not a disqualifier. “I saw Mommy on the potty,” is not your win, just as “Daddy hugged a woman I didn’t know,” is not a lethal blow to your case. Calmly explain any anecdote Junior may come out with succinctly and then move on: “He saw me hug my cousin goodbye when she left for vacation.”
Putting Your Parenting Skills on Trial
The mental health expert will also interview you, alone. Unlike your young child, you know full well what is at stake. Fortunately, any good psychologist takes into account your awareness of the seriousness of the interview and compensates for your natural nervousness.
You may feel your parenting skills are on trial. They are. The interviewer may ask about daily routines, how you handle accidents and emergencies, the names of your child’s daycare teachers (know them fluently), and more.
And Now, The Solution: A Custody Lawyer for Fathers
Just as CSI rolls out some weirdly mangled imaginary science to clinch a case, the evaluator will present to the court a final report that details all the aspects of all the relationships in your family. The report is meant to guide and influence the Virginia judge overseeing your child custody case. In most cases it forms one part of the decision; the judge is free to render a verdict that differs from the forensic evaluation.
By meeting with an attorney from The Firm For Men, you can be prepared to handle forensic evaluations and the many other parts of a child custody case. Call our offices at 757-383-9184 to schedule your consultation with a lawyer today. We have offices in Virginia Beach and Newport News to better serve you!