Psychological Experts in Child Custody Cases: Why They Matter & When You Need One

November 3, 2022 | J. Benjamin Stevens | Share:

Close-up of therapist hand writing notes during a counseling session with a single woman sitting on a couch in the blurred background.Navigating a child custody case is never easy, but having a psychological expert on your side can make a big difference, especially in cases where mental fitness for parenting is the biggest issue for the court to resolve. A psychological expert can provide valuable insight into the family’s psychological and emotional dynamic. Then the expert can help the court understand what is in the child’s best interests, given all the relevant psychological factors at play. Here’s a closer look at the roles a psychological expert may play in your contested child custody case.


What Does a Psychological Expert Do?

A psychological expert is typically hired to provide an independent assessment of either parent, both parents, and the overall family dynamic. Ultimately, the goal is for the expert to provide insight to the court about any issues that may be present for the family currently and recommendations about what type of custody and visitation arrangement would be in the best interests of the child. In addition, depending on what type of report has been requested of the expert, they will interview the necessary parties involved in the case, sometimes including the child or other witnesses who know the parent, to obtain information about the history and character of the person and the family, as well as any concerns that exist presenting.

If the case calls for a full child custody evaluation (a comprehensive study of both parents and the entire family system), the psychological expert will also observe interactions between the parents and child and likely conduct several collateral interviews (interviews with witnesses who know the family very well). They may also review school records, medical records, and any other relevant documentation necessary to gain further insight into the family and the cause of any concerns that are identified during the family court case. Based on this information, the expert will prepare a report that includes an evaluation of each parent’s ability to care for the child, as well as recommendations about which type of custody arrangement would be in the best interests of the child long term. The report is then submitted to the attorneys, the Guardian ad Litem, and the Court for consideration in resolving the case.


Why Is a Psychological Expert Important?

In many cases, divorcing parents are unable to agree on a custody arrangement by themselves. This can happen for many reasons, but most often, it’s because the marriage ended on such bad terms that either or both parties now have serious doubts about the other’s ability to parent the children properly. When this happens, it is up to the court to decide what type of arrangement is in the child’s best interests. Having a neutral psychological expert testify about the custody issues can be helpful because they can provide an unbiased assessment of your family dynamic and offer recommendations about what would be best for your child.


Do I Need a Psychological Expert?

In most cases, the psychological expert hired is either appointed by the Court or agreed to by the parties. But what happens if the report this person provides doesn’t align with how you see the case? If this occurs, the only way to battle against the opinions of one expert is to hire another expert in the same field to refute the first expert’s opinion.

A psychological expert hired to be part of your litigation team can also help you rebut any false claims made by the other parent or other witnesses, including the Guardian ad Litem, during testimony. For example, if the other parent claims that you are unstable or unfit to care for your child, a psychologist can attest to your good character and parenting abilities based on their professional evaluations. Also, if the GAL has made up their mind about your parenting abilities or formed a negative opinion about your behaviors during a case, a psychological expert can show how the GAL is not trained or qualified to make such decisions about you. They can also show the Court how your actions are explainable through the science of psychology and how your way of parenting is emotionally sound and in the children’s best interests based on the family’s history.


Final Thoughts

 Psychological experts play an important role in child custody cases by providing unbiased assessments of the family dynamic and offering recommendations about what type of custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interests. However, not every case will need this type of expert. If you are involved in a custody case, it is advisable to speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area about whether hiring a psychological expert would be beneficial or necessary in your particular situation.

If you’re struggling with issues surrounding child custody or need help finding the best ways to build a cooperative parenting agreement with your co-parent, talking with an experienced family court attorney will help. If you’re in South Carolina, contact a trusted family law attorney like Ben Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.


Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. If you or someone you know is facing a divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, or other family law case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or to schedule a consultation.


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Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina.  His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.

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