The Judge Appointed A Psychologist in my Divorce Case. Now What?By DADvocacy™ | May 31, 2022
You’re at a point in your divorce case where the court is deciding your timesharing arrangement. The judge has decided to appoint a psychologist to conduct a custody evaluation. But why is a mental health professional now involved in your case? Will the court-appointed psychologist think you’re crazy?
Or rather, yes, probably, since there isn’t a person alive without some issue. Moreover, you are going through a divorce that will potentially affect your time with your children and your finances – of course you’re not at your emotional best.
Now is not the time to panic. The psychologist is gathering more information about your situation to help the judge to make the best decision for your child. Lose any defensive posture. Consider this evaluation an opportunity for you to advocate for yourself by showing how your proposal for timesharing is the healthiest option for your children.
The court-appointed, licensed psychologist must operate as a neutral third-party acting in good faith to determine the best interests of the child/ren. In evaluating both parents, the psychologist will find something – for exactly the reasons listed above. Be assured the psychologist will usually find issues on both sides, as no one is perfect.
However, if you know that you personally are battling a “red flag” issue, such as disabling depression or substance use that affects your life duties, such as self-care or work, now is the time to address your problems. As the Florida Bar has pointed out, the psychologist may be appointed because “[a] party’s mental health…affects that party’s present ability to earn income or present ability to care for a child”. For example, can the parent earn adequate income to support both the parent and the child/ren? Are there current mental health issues that impact the parent’s good judgment in child-rearing decisions?
When a party makes a claim involving the mental health of the opposing party, there must be a specific factual allegation supported by evidence. Generalizations are not sufficient to involve a psychologist. There must be an identifiable connection between the alleged issue and the ability to care for, or provide for, the child.
Generally, the findings of the court-appointed licensed psychologist are rarely case dispositive. They are only one piece of evidence among others, so why do psychological evaluations occur? If the court has already appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL), the GAL is likely to bring in professionals, such as the psychologist, to validate the GAL’s decisions. In addition, judges have several reasons for requiring them:
- Judges want to know that they are making safe decisions in agreeing to custody arrangements. They have a legal duty to the parties, but they also have a conscience and must live with the outcomes of their decisions. The psychologist’s evaluation is one means of ensuring the safety of the child’s environment through an additional perspective on the facts available to the court. The psychologist adds another layer in protecting the best interests of the child.
- When a judge employs the results of the psychologist’s evaluation to reach a final decision in the case, there is less chance of a successful appeal, as the judge followed the psychologist’s guidance.
- Insurance does not cover the psychological evaluation: you will be paying, in full, out of pocket; consequently, parties may be more likely to settle because the overall fees increase too steeply, given that the custody evaluation usually costs four figures.
Court-appointed psychologists are not offering treatment, as they remain neutral in order to help the court reach a final decision on custody and timesharing. They do not owe you confidentiality, as you are not their patient. They are not present for your venting and frustrations; in fact, bad-mouthing the other side without a specific factual basis will likely work against you. For more guidance on presenting yourself at the evaluation, please see our Zoom tips.
Warning: All posts on this website and its partner website, JustPrenups.com, contain general information about legal matters for broad educational purposes only. This information is not legal advice and should not be treated as such. This blog post does not create any attorney-client relationship between the reader and the DADvocacy™ Law Firm or between the reader and JustPrenups.com.