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The field of child custody evaluations is a subset of the wider field of forensic ... The interpretation of data is framed within the behavioral science literature.
|Title |Scientifically crafted child custody evaluations. | |Authors |Gould, Jonathan W. | |From |Family & Conciliation Courts Review Apr99, Vol. 37 | | |Issue 2, p159 2 charts Peer Reviewed | |Database |Masterfile FULLTEXT 1000 |

SCIENTIFICALLY CRAFTED CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATIONS Part Two: A Paradigm for Forensic Evaluation of Child Custody Determination Part 1 of this two-part series proposed the use of an interdisciplinary model in the development of psycholegal questions that guide child custody evaluations. It was argued that defining the scope and focus of an evaluation at the time that a court order is entered provides a more structured and clearly defined set of questions to be researched and examined within the context of the behavioral science literature. The present article offers a conceptual model to be used in gathering and analyzing data in child custody evaluations. It is argued that the use of forensic methodology provides a more scientific basis for the information provided by the evaluator to the trier of fact, ultimately resulting in a more useful and accurate picture of the family in question. The field of child custody evaluations is a subset of the wider field of forensic mental health (Gould, 1998). The American Psychological Association's (APA's) Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists (1991) developed a set of guidelines intended to describe "an aspirational model of desirable professional practice by psychologists, within any subdiscipline of psychology... when they are engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system" (p. 655). It has been suggested elsewhere that these aspirational guidelines may serve other mental health disciplines, too, in their professional behavior within a forensic context (Gould, 1998). Within the forensic subspecialty of child custody, a number of professional organizations have published professional practice guidelines for child custody evaluations, such as those developed by the APA (1994) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) (1995). There are also published professional practice guidelines pertaining to the evaluation of allegations of child sexual abuse that may be used in conjunction with the child custody guidelines cited above, for example, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) (1988, 1997) and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) (1990, 1995a, 1995b). Both the AACAP and the APSAC guidelines may be viewed as evaluation protocols in the assessment of child maltreatment or child sexual abuse. The movement toward development of professional practice guidelines in child custody evaluation parallels a similar movement in the more general field of forensic mental health. Over the past 15 years, beginning with Shapiro's (1984, 1991) seminal work, followed closely by the assessment model articulated by Grisso (1988) and the comprehensive textbook by Melton, Petrila, Poythress, and Slobogin (1987, 1997), the type and quality of professional forensic evaluations have been increasingly scrutinized (Hagen, 1997) with an eye toward increasing the goodness of fit between the mental health work product prepared for the court and the court's standards of scientific evidence (Goodman-Delahunty, 1997; Gould, 1998; Heilbrun, 1995; Weissman, 1991). The purpose of a child custody evaluation is to provide evaluative information to the court about a child, his or her parents, and the quality of the caretaker relationship between each parent and child. This evaluative information is collected and analyzed using methods and procedures drawn from the behavioral sciences. The interpretation of data is framed within the behavioral science literature. Therefore, a child custody evaluation is intended to provide the court with information about the child and his or her family context, which is based on a paradigm of scientific inquiry. The work product that results from the systematic gathering of data, its analysis, and its interpretation is a scientific work product and should be expected to meet at least minimal evidentiary standards of scientific admissibility (Goodman-Delahunty, 1997; Gould, 1998). One way to increase the fit between a child custody evaluation and legal standards of admissibility of scientific evidence is to scientifically craft our forensic work products. A scientifically crafted forensic work product uses the methods and procedures of the scientific method in the gathering, analysis, and interpretation of data. A scientifically crafted child custody evaluation bases its recommendations in the behavioral science literature (Gould, 1998). Following the scientific method, a forensic evaluator then uses this expertise to test a set of rival hypotheses that are generated by the elements of the law applicable to the legal case being adjudicated (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997; Gould, 1999). For evaluation, the testifying expert needs to know the relevant case law and how it relates to the questions posed by the court. Finally, a child custody evaluation must be reliable and valid to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty for it to be admissible into evidence (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997). In gathering data that is used to test each rival hypothesis, the forensic evaluator offers opinions regarding historical truth and the validity of the psychological aspects of a party's claims. Unlike therapy, in which information is often based on that provided by the client and may be somewhat incomplete, grossly biased, or honestly misperceived, a competent child custody evaluation includes verification of the accuracy of each party's story against other information sources (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997). This focus on historical accuracy points to the need to adopt a set of procedures and methods that will balance the potential distortions inherent in interview data, the limited information about parenting competencies gained from psychological tests and measures, or questions about external validity drawn from direct behavioral observation. The emphasis on historical accuracy leads both to a need for completeness in the information obtained from the parties, as well as a need for a structured approach to the gathering of that complete information (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997). Recently, there has been an increasing acceptance of a standard forensic methodology (Gould, 1998; Greenberg & Moreland, 1996; Melton et al., 1997; Schutz, Dixon, Lindenberger, & Ruther, 1989). The purpose of this article is to describe this methodology and its application to child custody evaluations. STANDARD FORENSIC METHODOLOGY AND PROCEDURES APPLIED TO CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATIONS This article introduces the fundamental components of a scientifically crafted child custody evaluation that corresponds to the APA's (1994) "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings." Most of the suggested elements of a scientifically crafted child custody evaluation also reflect the position of the AFCC's (1995) Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation. A scientifically crafted child custody evaluation should include at least five different sources of information. The current literature addressing appropriate methods and procedures in civil forensic evaluations identify the following to be included in a competently conducted examination: forensic interview data using a structured interview format (Ackerman, 1995; Gould, 1998; Grisso, 1988; Schutz et al., 1989), self-report data (Gould, 1998; Greenberg, 1996; Grisso, 1990; Schutz et al., 1989), standardized psychological tests that have appropriate basis and relevance to the psycholegal questions posed (Brodzinsky, 1993; Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991; Gould, 1998; Greenberg, 1996; Heilbrun, 1995), collateral interview data and record review (Ackerman, 1995; Greenberg, 1996; Greenberg & Shuman, 1997; Grisso, 1988; Schutz et al., 1989; Shapiro, 1991), and direct observational data (Ackerman, 1995; APA, 1994; Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991; Gould, 1998; Greenberg, 1996; Greenberg & Shuman, 1997; Grisso, 1988; Schutz et al., 1989; Stahl, 1994). It is through an understanding of how each component of this methodological paradigm contributes to increasing the reliability and validity of the forensic work product and the necessity of inclusion of all of the five data-gathering components that one may reach the most balanced, fair, and justly determined interpretations of the data gathered in a custodial examination. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION? The APA's (1994) "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings" suggest that the focus of a child custody evaluation is "to assess the individual and family factors that affect the best psychological interests of the child. More specific questions may be raised by the court" (p. 677). Toward this end, the APA recommends an evaluation of parenting fitness, the psychological and developmental needs of the child, and the resulting fit between each parent's parenting competencies and the needs of the minor child. To accomplish this goal, a child custody evaluation should involve (a) an assessment of each parent's capacity for parenting; (b) an assessment of the psychological functioning and developmental needs of the child and the wishes of the child where appropriate; and (c) an assessment of the functional ability of each parent to meet the needs of the minor child, which includes an evaluation of the interaction between each adult and child (APA, 1994). The AFCC's (1995) Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation suggest that child custody evaluation is a process through which recommendations for the custody of, parenting of, and access to children can be made to the court in those cases in which the parents are unable to work out their own parenting plans. ... The primary purpose of a child custody evaluation is to assess the family and provide the courts, the parents, and the attorneys with objective information and recommendations. (p. 1) Toward this end, the AFCC's Model Standards of Practice recommend an evaluation to (a) identify the developmental needs of the child; (b) identify strengths, vulnerabilities and needs of all other members of the family; (c) identify the positive and negative family interactions; (d) develop a plan for custody and access utilizing the strengths of each individual that will serve the best interests of the child(ren) and within those parameters, the wishes and interests of the parents and, in most situations provide them with an opportunity to share in the upbringing of their child(ren); and (e) through a written report, provide the court, parents, and attorneys with these recommendations and supporting data. (p. 1) IS A CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION A FORENSIC EVALUATION? Both the APA and the AFCC appear to view the purpose of a child custody evaluation as to provide information to the court about the psychological best interests of the child. When an evaluator gathers information that is intended to assist the trier of fact to reach an ultimate decision, the evaluation is considered a forensic evaluation. According to the APA's "Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists" (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991) a child custody evaluation falls within the definition of forensic psychology activity. The guidelines state, "Forensic psychology" means all forms of professional psychological conduct when acting, with definable foreknowledge, as a psychological expert on explicitly psycholegal issues, in direct assistance to courts, parties to a legal proceeding, correctional and forensic mental health facilities, and administrative, judicial, and legislative agencies acting in an adjudicative capacity. (p. 657) The "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluation in Divorce Proceedings" (APA, 1994) also consider a child custody evaluation as a forensic psychology activity. The guidelines state, Psychological data and expertise, gained through a child custody evaluation, can provide an additional source of information and an additional perspective not otherwise readily available to the court on what appears to be in the child's best interest, and thus can increase the fairness of the determination the court must make. (p. 678) The AFCC's (1995) Model Standards of Practice do not directly address whether a child custody evaluation is a forensic evaluation. There are a number of state associations that address the question of whether a child custody evaluation is a forensic evaluation. For example, the North Carolina Psychological Association's (NCPA's) Child Custody Guidelines (1994) identify child custody evaluations as a forensic psychological activity. The NCPA guidelines state, "Our committee is of the opinion that a custody/visitation evaluation is a forensic evaluation specifically for the purpose of assisting in custody assignment" (p. 19). Mental health child custody evaluators should investigate their state professional associations' positions, policies, and guidelines about child custody evaluations. It may be useful to explore state case law pertaining to the court's acceptance of different mental health professionals' competencies to provide testimony in each area of a child custody assessment. In some states, state licensing laws may prohibit some types of testimony while allowing other types. Too frequently, mental health professionals offer ideas and opinions in custodial recommendations that reflect personal values or professional biases, yet they do not inform the judge that the opinions are not empirically derived. Although such testimony is frequently offered in court and may form the foundation for judicial decisions, mental health professionals who are admitted as expert witnesses to testify about their custody evaluations need to respect the legal requirement for their data to be based on the scientific knowledge of the field. When a psychological expert chooses to offer an opinion that has no empirical grounding, such opinions need to be clearly labeled. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DEFINE AN EVALUATION AS A FORENSIC EVALUATION? When a court orders a custody evaluation to be conducted by a mental health professional, the court is asking for a professional with expertise and knowledge of the behavioral sciences, specifically, but not limited to those areas that pertain to child and family functioning as well as parenting arrangements during and following divorce. There is an increasingly robust, empirically derived database about several different factors that may assist the courts in their ultimate decision making about custodial placement. Therefore, the expectation of most courts is that the mental health professional holds expert knowledge about the social science that underlies variables associated with effective custodial placement. A child custody evaluation should be viewed as a scientific means by which to examine relevant social science variables (i.e., cognitive functioning, emotional development, interpersonal relationships, family functioning) and subject them to an analysis of each parent's contribution to his or her child's psychological best interests. This requires a standard set of methods and procedures to ensure that information about each parent and each child is gathered and analyzed in a similar manner. This is the scientific method. When the information gathered from each participant is analyzed in light of empirically derived knowledge drawn from the social sciences, the resulting recommendations of the report should also be grounded in the behavioral science literature. In this way, the report becomes a scientific document that reveals a standard set of methods and procedures framed within a social science paradigm addressing relevant behavioral science questions before the court. This is a scientific report. Taken together, child custody evaluations should be scrutinized by attorneys and judges for their admissibility as scientific evidence. Therefore, lawyers and judges should assess the structure of a custody report, its methods and procedures, and the degree to which the recommendations are based on the behavioral science literature against the prevailing standards for the admissibility of scientific evidence. This is not to propose that all custody evaluations need to pass a Daubert test. However, a well-developed custody evaluation should be based on an underlying theory of science. There should be a well-articulated, scientific reason for the choice of self-report measures and psychological tests. The questions asked during a forensic interview should reflect a theoretical structure that is directed toward appropriate topic areas that, themselves, should reflect a consistent underlying theory of science relevant to custodial determinations (Gould, 1998). When a mental health professional is appointed by the court to conduct a custody evaluation, the evaluator should have a clear understanding of the issue or issues before the court and be able to formulate responses and opinions within the context of applicable law, the rules of the court, and the uniqueness of the matter at hand (Gould, 1999). Thus, once identified as a forensic work product, the evaluator must create a report that would meet at least the minimal standard of evidentiary admissibility of scientific data. Once the evaluator knows (or should have reason to know) that his or her work product will be used in a legal arena, the quality of psychological data as well as the methods, procedures, and reasoning used to arrive at his or her conclusions should conform not only to conventional forensic mental health practice (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991) in the area of child custody evaluation (APA, 1994; NCPA, 1994), but they must also meet the evidentiary standards of Federal Rules of Evidence (i.e., Federal Rules of Evidence 702, 703, and 704, among others), or its state equivalent, governing the admissibility of scientific evidence (Goodman-Delahunty, 1997; Gould, 1998). CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATIONS As the field of forensic psychology becomes increasingly concerned about crafting reports that meet the evidentiary standard of a scientific inquiry, custody evaluators are choosing a standard battery of tests, techniques, interview protocols, and self-report measures (e.g., Melton et al., 1997). Using a standard format allows the data to be collected in the same way, presumably increasing its reliability (Rogers, 1995). A standard format also forces an examiner to ask all questions in the protocol rather than stopping after gathering data that supports the examiner's pet hunch or bias. This phenomenon, referred to as confirmatory bias, often undermines the integrity of an evaluation because an examiner forms a judgment prior to exploring reasonable alternative hypotheses (Ceci & Bruck, 1995). The danger of confirmatory bias is that an evaluator prematurely identifies a reason or cause based on preexisting beliefs, attitudes, or values rather than on a critical review of the accumulated data. The model proposed by Grisso (1986) posits that a data collection method is "standardized" when its procedure is sufficiently clear to allow various examiners to collect their data in the same way: that is, with the same questions, response formats, ways of evaluating the examinee's responses, and other matters of procedure. (p. 25) When an examiner uses a standard battery, Grisso suggests it reduces individual differences between evaluators. Each examiner is forced to collect data in the same way, resulting in a decreased probability of examiner error imposing itself on the data-gathering phase of the assessment. Another benefit of using a standard battery is that it assures a consistent set of behavioral observations from case to case. Because forensic custody evaluations are limited in the number of psychometrically sound tools developed specifically for use in custodial determinations, the evaluator is almost forced to use nonstandardized data- gathering techniques at some point during the evaluation. However, using standardized formats (in contrast to standardized tests) whenever possible will greatly reduce the chances (size) of error. Most current books and professional guides provide standardized questionnaire formats for use in child custody evaluations (e.g., Schutz et al., 1989; Stahl, 1994) (see Table 1). In a forensic context, the need for asking parents the same set of questions provides a means of exploring their responses in a standard manner. It also provides a means for the examiner to control and direct the interview toward factors for which it is necessary to collect data. The structured format reduces the chances of deviation into areas of interest to the examiner that have little, if any, relevance to the psycholegal questions to be addressed. Most sophisticated examiners are well schooled in theories of reliability and validity. "Published information on a method's reliability is very important because it allows one to document the dependability of one's data collection method for purposes of courtroom testimony" (Grisso, 1986, p. 26). It is in the area of validity that custody examiners have the most difficulty justifying their choices and uses of a technique, test, or a set of tests. A valid instrument may generate data that may be used to determine behaviors and abilities that are of relevance to the legal questions before the court. However, we are limited in identifying valid instruments developed for use with a forensic custodial population. This is why custodial assessment is as much art as it is science. "Tests are important for many reasons, but often they do not provide the breadth, depth, or flexibility needed by the examiner to explore certain types of information relatively unique to an individual case" (Grisso, 1986, p. 26).

The best way to approach validity in a forensic context is to use many different methods of data collection on a particular variable. This is not to suggest a shotgun approach in which many tests are used without an appropriate underlying rationale. When using different tests that purport to measure aspects of the same variable, it is critical that one know the degree of overlap between the tests. Tests may be intercorrelated, telling us less about the target behavior and more about how different tests measure the same behavior. The similarity in scores may result from a redundancy in measurement rather than incremental information about the target behavior (Gould, 1998). The solution is to be knowledgeable about the concurrent validity of different measures. It is also wise to examine a number of variables within the original conceptual domain, looking for consistency of response. Using this multitest, multivariable method reduces error and poor reliability by requiring that behavioral observations be supported by at least two sources (Brodzinsky, 1993). Shapiro (1984) points out that disastrous results can ensue if a psychologist enters court merely on the basis of his therapeutic interaction with a patient, and tries to render valid opinions in a particular case on this therapeutic insight, without doing the investigative work necessary in any forensic case. (p. 130) STANDARD FORENSIC INTERVIEW PROTOCOL A critical investigative tool is a standard forensic interview protocol that allows for questions that deviate from the structured format (Grisso, 1986; Rogers, 1988, 1995, 1997; Schutz et al., 1989). The forensic interview should follow a structured format, preferably using a standard interview protocol to ensure uniformity of data gathering (Grisso, 1986; Rogers, 1995, 1997, 1998). The interview structure should be flexible enough to allow the interviewer to follow relevant leads toward different ends with each parent. However, the same or a similar set of basic data needs to be collected from each parent and each child. Presently, there are no psychometrically sound, structured interview protocols for use in custody evaluations. The point to remember is that interviews should ask the same general set of questions of each party, and the set of questions being asked should be directly tied to the relevant legal issues before the court. Current professional practice. Structured forensic interview protocols provide systematic comparisons, with the form and sequencing of questions being held constant. The litigant's responses can be examined for consistency on three parameters: (a) across time (identical questions at different times), (b) with collateral informants (collateral interviews with identical questions), and (c) with unstructured narrative (litigant's free-flowing account with structured questions) (Rogers, 1998). The conclusion in the forensic literature is that using a standard forensic interview protocol provides a more scientific method of data collection, with the results increasing the reliability of the data (Rogers, 1995, 1997, 1998). Thus, the use of a standard forensic interview protocol provides a more systematic means of data gathering in a manner consistent with the evidentiary needs of scientific information (Gould, 1998). SELF-REPORT MEASURES A second core data-gathering component is self-report measures. Often, self- report measures used in child custody evaluations include parenting stress, parenting satisfaction, parent-child relationship, emotional well-being, parent perception of the child, child perception of the parent, parent perception of the parent-child relationship, child perception of the parentchild relationship, among many other measures (Ackerman, 1995; Ackerman & Ackerman, 1997; Schutz et al., 1989). The information obtained from self-report measures is subject to confirmation from other sources such as direct behavioral observation and collateral interviews. According to Brodzinsky (1993), "Certain questionnaires and behavior rating scales also allow the evaluator to assess how the parties view one another in various domains of functioning" (p. 215). Similar to psychological tests (discussed in the next section), results from self-report measures should be used to generate hypotheses about each parent or child. They are not diagnostic, nor are they definitive. Several authors have pointed to the lower psychometric integrity of many self- report measures. However, if results from the measures are used to explore alternative hypotheses, awaiting confirmation from alternative data sources, then self-report measures may provide a useful means to gather information about the parties and their children in a standard format (Gould, 1998). Current professional practice. Self-report measures often meet the criteria for a psychological test (i.e., Heilbrun, 1995) and meet some of the criteria necessary for admissibility as a scientific test (Goodman- Delahunty, 1997). Many self-report measures have an underlying theory of science, have reported reliability and validity information, are falsifiable (assumptions are testable through scientific investigation), are published in peer-reviewed journals, and are generally accepted for use among those in the professional community (e.g., Beck Depression Inventory, Parent-Child Relationship Inventory). There are also self-report measures that are not scientific instruments in the sense that they meet Heilbrun's (1995) criteria for a psychological test. However, they provide useful data from which to generate hypotheses because they are standard data-gathering tools. Self-report measures that fall into this category are questionnaires, surveys, and some checklists. OBJECTIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING A third source of data gathering is objective psychological testing. The choice of a psychological test should be directly relevant to the psycholegal questions being posed (Gould, 1998). For example, in the assessment of parental competencies, several personality tests are available that may be used to generate hypotheses about whether the measured personality features revealed on the test influence the individual's parenting. It is important to note that there is no personality test that measures parenting or parental competencies. Table 2 is a summary of factors described by Heilbrun (1995) that define the components of a test to be used in a forensic context. Test choice should be directly related to the psycholegal questions posed by the court. Rather than using a shotgun approach to test choice, evaluators should narrow their choice of tests to those that provide relevant data that is related to answering the questions before the court. Current professional practice. The use of psychological test data in court should provide, among other sources of information, a genuinely empirical basis for an expert's opinion (Shapiro, 1991). Psychological testing has the potential of providing objective support to the expert's opinion (Shapiro, 1991). A properly developed standardized test should provide the expert with data grounded in objective, empirical research (Heilbrun, 1992, 1995). Furthermore, the use of psychological tests helps to balance the bias and potential errors inherent in clinical interview data with objective results (Ben-Porath, Graham, Hall, Hirschman, & Zaragoza, 1995; McCann & Dyer, 1996). However, it is critical that the evaluator understand that any test results provide only hypotheses, which are subjected to verification from alternative data sources (Heilbrun, 1992). Table 3 lists 10 reasons why the use of psychological testing assists in the competent evaluation of relevant psycholegal aspects of child custody. Psychological tests provide two types of information. Tests provide information about specific characteristics of an individual, such as personality features (e.g., the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory- 2 and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III). They may provide comparative information about parents, the marital stability of a remarried family, or family conflict and cohesion. Such testing may provide normative data that may be useful in the evaluation (Clark & Clark, 1992). Tests also provide information about the individual's response style and bias. Among the variables that are critical to objectively assess in a custody evaluation is the degree to which a parent (or child) may be attempting to present himself or herself in a favorable light. Despite our often held belief that skilled interviewers are able to distinguish through a thorough interview procedure who is lying and who is telling the truth, many years of research have clearly demonstrated that mental health professionals are not very good at judging who is honest and who is not. Thus, the evaluator needs to be aware of potential deception and malingering in adults (Rogers, 1997, 1998) and children (Oldershaw & Bagby, 1997). As Brodzinsky (1993) states, Psychological testing has a very legitimate place in child custody assessments. Besides providing psychological data about the unique strengths, limitations and dynamics of the individuals involved, testing permits observation of each party under controlled conditions and allows the evaluator to objectively examine the person's approach to the assessment itself (i.e., whether the individual shows any particular response bias, such as faking good or faking bad, in the evaluation). (p. 215) Important aspects of choosing a psychological test include its acceptance as scientific evidence in previous jurisdictions, published psychometric data supporting its reliability and validity, relevance to the psycholegal questions, and a basis in scientific theory (Ben-Porath et al., 1995; McCann & Dyer, 1996; Pope, Butcher & Seelen, 1993). It should be viewed as a tool generally relied on by professionals in the field for use in custodial matters (Ackerman & Ackerman, 1997). It should also assist in the generation of hypotheses that are directly related to the psycholegal questions posed by the court. COLLATERAL INTERVIEWS AND RECORD REVIEW A fourth core data-gathering component is collateral data (Ackerman, 1995; Grisso, 1986; Schutz et al., 1989; Shapiro, 1984). Forensic evaluation differs from clinical evaluation in its emphasis on establishing historical truth (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997). Historical truth may be gleaned from, among other data sources, external information gained through interviewing people who know the litigant. This information may be explored for its veracity and possible contamination and is open to judicial scrutiny, that is, direct and cross-examination. Collateral resource interviews are an important contribution to the overall picture of the litigant's behavior prior to legal involvement. They may provide information about the parent or parent-child relationship observations that may be critical to the evaluation yet otherwise unavailable to the examiner. The evaluator needs to consider the interest of a third party in determining the weight to be assigned to the corroborative information. Not all collateral interview sources provide the same material, nor is their information weighed in a similar manner. Information from a family member may provide a richer source of direct observational data, yet it may be confounded by the observer's self-interest derived from his or her relationship with the parent. On the other hand, collateral data from a soccer coach or school teacher may provide less robust information about a parent, yet is less likely to be contaminated by the collateral source's personal feelings about the parent. It is important not to take for granted that people close to the center will always be biased. In a recent case, I interviewed a father's sister who, I was told by the father, is someone with whom he shares a close relationship. I presumed the sister would sing the praises of her brother. She acknowledged that they were very close but also said that she wanted to do what was best for her nephew. She told me that her brother was a fine father but that her sister-in-law was among the best caretakers she had ever observed. She contrasted each parent along several different parenting dimensions and indicated that the mother was superior along each dimension. One way to conceptualize collateral interviews is to think about increasingly larger concentric circles in which the center bands represent those closest to the parent. Those bands that are furthest from the center represent people who are emotionally furthest from each parent. Table 4 represents a conceptual framework useful in guiding the consideration of different collateral data sources. Current professional practice. The specialty guidelines (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991), child custody guidelines (APA, 1994), and model standards (AFCC, 1995) each address the need for collateral interviews. Collateral data provide a means to increase the confidence of one's conclusions because the obtained information comes from sources external to the investigation. These data can provide external validation in support of one or more hypotheses. Use of collateral information about parental competencies, parental behavior, and parental perception of the child is particularly important in light of recent research indicating that "parents of children involved in child custody disputes remain poor reporters. They tend to project their own disturbance and strong feeling" (Hysjulien, Wood, & Benjamin, 1994, p. 472). Collateral interviews are a means of verifying hypotheses through independent sources. These third-party observations "can significantly reduce such problems in relevance and accuracy" (Heilbrun, 1992, p. 263). Melton et al. (1987) state that "probably the single best device (for determining accuracy) is corroboration through third party information" (p. 285). Focusing solely on child custody evaluations, there appears to be general consensus among published texts that the use of collateral interview data and record reviews is a critical component of a comprehensive child custody evaluation (e.g., Ackerman, 1995; AFCC, 1995; APA, 1994; Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991; Gould, 1998; Schutz et al., 1989; Skafte, 1985; Stahl, 1994). The training arm of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology also stresses the need for collateral interview data in conducting forensic child custody evaluations. Weissman (1996), Skidmore (1994), Sparta (1998), and Greenberg (1996) argue for the use of collateral data in forensic evaluations for child custody. In a child custody dispute, the parties are highly motivated to convince the examiner of their positive abilities to be the better parent. There is also a strong motivation to cast the other parent as a less competent parent (Rogers, 1998). Therefore, there is a significant probability that some distortion of information will be presented to the examiner, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the parent. The examiner must take precautions to evaluate the degree and type of deception or malingering through third-party data (Rogers, 1988, 1997, 1998). Awareness of possible deception is also an important factor when examining children (Oldershaw & Bagby, 1997). In summary, the standard in the field of forensic evaluations in general, and forensic child custody evaluations in particular, is to include collateral data sources as a critical part of the evaluation process. Failure to do so may have "disastrous results" (Shapiro, 1984, p. 130). DIRECT BEHAVIORAL OBSERVATIONS A fifth area is direct observation of behavior. In the case of parental competency, parent-child interactions need to be observed (AFCC, 1995; APA, 1994). In the case of custody determinations, parent-child interactions need to be observed (AFCC, 1995; APA, 1994). In the case of determination of parental risk to child, parent-child interactions need to be observed (Schutz et al., 1989). Current professional practice. The child custody guidelines (APA, 1994) state that a comprehensive child custody evaluation "includes an evaluation of the interaction between each adult and child" (p. 678). The AFCC's (1995) model standards also stress the need for an evaluation of each parent with each child, stating, "The children shall be observed with each parent or potential caretaker in the office or home setting" (p. 4). A useful conceptual framework within which to organize behavioral observations is offered by the Child Custody Guidelines of the NCPA (1994). They are (a) quality of child's interactions and behavior with each parent, (b) communication and control patterns, (c) behavior of participants, and (d) quality of interactions between and among caregivers. Other states may have other criteria that may address issues not considered above. SUMMARY The field of forensic mental health increasingly supports the use of a five- prong approach to data gathering in forensic assessments. This five-prong approach was applied to the subspecialty of child custody evaluations. Each dimension was discussed within the context of current behavioral science literature and forensic methods and procedures. Each data-gathering method provides a means of incrementally adding to the weight as well as validity of the recommendations offered to the court. Author's Note: Special thanks to Mark Tobin, Ph.D., H. D. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., and William Tyson, Ph.D., for their thoughtful and insightful comments offered during the development of this article. Table 1 Comparison of Recommended Child Custody Methodology and Procedures Technique or Procedure Recommended Standard SGFP APA AFCC

Use of structured forensic interview protocol with semistructured and unstructured questions relevant to psycholegal issues Yes Yes Yes

Use of self-report measures Yes Yes No Use of objective psychological tests Yes Yes Yes Use of collateral interviews and record review Yes Yes Yes Direct behavioral observations Yes Yes Yes NOTE: SGFP = American Psychological Association's "Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists" (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991); APA = American Psychological Association's (1994) "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings"; AFCC = Association of Family and Conciliation Court's (1995) Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation. Table 2 Defining the Components of a Test for Use in a Child Custody Evaluation 1. The test must be commercially available. 2. The test must have a published manual describing development, psychometric properties, and procedures for administration. 3. The test is reviewed in peer-reviewed journals. 4. There is ongoing research exploring its usefulness (validity). 5. Test-retest reliability is at least .80. 6. The test must be relevant to the legal issue or to a psychological construct underlying a legal issue. 7. There is standard administration. 8. The test must have measures of response style. SOURCE: Adapted from Heilbrun (1995). Table 3 Ten Reasons Supporting the Use of Psychological Tests in Child Custody Evaluations 1. Testing provides an external, objectively determined means of generating information about each parent and each child. 2. Testing serves as a way to confirm or disconfirm the information gained through face-to-face interviews, direct behavioral observations, or collateral data sources. 3. Testing provides information from which we may generate additional ideas (hypotheses) to examine in the evaluation. 4. Testing provides a way to better understand the personality features of the parent and/or child. 5. Testing provides a way to gather data about parental and/or child features such as cognitive style, intellectual functioning, temperament, or personality features. 6. Testing provides a way to explore the emotional and psychological match between the parent and child, the parent and parent, or among the children.

7. Testing provides a means of gathering information about the goodness of fit between the parent's emotional, intellectual, and psychological features and those of each child. 8. Testing provides information about potential areas of mismatch between or among family members. 9. Testing provides a means of gathering objectively determined information about possible emotional reactions to the present family transition, for example, level of depression, anxiety, and attentional difficulties. 10. Objective psychological testing provides a means of exploring the litigant's response style. Because parents may be motivated to present themselves in a manner that favors their legal cases, psychological tests provide a way to measure typical ways of distorting the information, such as faking good (social desirability), faking bad (debasement), degree of openness (disclosure or defensiveness), reliability/honesty (deception), malingering, and irrelevancy (failure to respond appropriately to questions, e.g., VRIN, TRIN). Unless response style is specifically assessed and demonstrated to be honest, it is impossible for the examiner to determine whether the quality of the information gained through interview sources is accurate, meaningful, or valid. Table 4 Conceptual Framework for Collateral Data Sources Legend for Chart:

A - Least Likely to Be Influenced By Relationship With Parent: Extended Community B - Least Likely to Be Influenced By Relationship With Parent: Local Community C - Most Likely to Be Influenced By Relationship With Parent: Friends D - Most Likely to Be Influenced By Relationship With Parent: Family


Local government leaders Church Acquaintances Extended

Banks Neighbors Friends Siblings

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