In the family courts, I am most often asked to make recommendations regarding child cusotdy and Visitation. I have also been asked to make recommendations regarding Termination of Parental Rights, and to evaluate potential adoptive and forster parents.
Child Custody and Visitation:
The evaluation of child custody and visitation disputes involves a comprehensive assessment of the competing parties’ competence to parent their children. The Best Interests of the Child doctrine is the controlling standard. In addition to interviewing the child where relevant, the evaluating psychiatrist typically examines all parties who are likely to act as caretakers or to have significant influence on the child’s development. The evaluation takes into account their abilities to provide love, affection, guidance, moral education, medical care and a stable emotional environment, and safe living conditions, adequate food and clothing, neighborhood and playmate factors, and the availability of transportation to school, doctors’ appointment and the like. The importance of continuity in already existing relationships with caretakers and peers must be assessed. In some cases one party will request removal of the child to another state for residence. Evaluations in these matters, too, are conducted with the best interests of the child in mind. Reports and testimony are the usual in child custody, visitation and removal cases.
The “least detrimental alternative” has been postulated as an alternative judicial presumption. This presumption holds that courts and clinicians should be guided by the more realistic notion that all children in separating or divorcing families are harmed to some extent. The goal is to find the solution that appears to harm them the least.
Mediation has been suggested as an alternative to the adversarial legal process. Some parents undergo mediation voluntarily. In some jurisdictions mediation is mandatory.