What is the Role of a Forensic Psychologist in Child Custody Cases?
Before looking at the role of a forensic psychologist in child custody cases, it makes sense to look at the definition of a forensic psychologist and what their role is. As defined by the American Psychology Association, it is “the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena.” In other words, according to author Jane Tyler Ward, Ph.D., forensic psychology is “the physiological assessment of individuals who are involved in one way or another with the legal system.” She goes on to say the most important skills a forensic psychologist must have are solid clinic skills that include “clinical assessment, interviewing, report writing, strong verbal communication skills, (especially as an expert witness in court), and case presentation.” The forensic psychologist will, in the determination of a child custody case, use tools for gathering information such as interviewing both parents, an interview with the child involved, interviewing people who have had direct knowledge and possibly helped care for the child such as a daycare worker or grandparent, and looking at records from doctors who have treated the child during their lifetime. Assessing background information and formulating questions that need answers play a big role in the gathering of information.
Once the forensic psychologist has formulated the question needing answers, there will begin a search for answers. Questions needing answers could include such questions as is there really a case of child abuse? What is the mental and physical health of a parent? Has the child been cared for appropriately? What will the living environment be for the child? How attached is the child to each parent individually or another caregiver such as a grandparent? Does the recent pediatrician have recommendations regarding the custody of the child? Will the child and or the parents benefit from court-ordered counseling? When all the questions have been answered, a formal, written report will be presented to the court for the judge to look over to help decide what will be the best custody arrangement for the child. A forensic psychologist can testify in court as an expert witness in addressing the custody determination of a child.
In the state of Florida, a child’s custody is best served when the parents can share custody in what is termed parental timesharing. Here the child spends equal time with each parent, including overnights. A parenting plan is formulated determining such issues as who has the child on which holidays, where the child will attend school or daycare, how will parents and parents and child communicate, and how will the child be transferred from parent to parent? Additionally, all decisions involving medical, education, religion, and discipline must be determined by both parents deciding together. However, when it can be proven, and here is where the report of the forensic psychologist comes in, a parent is unfit by the reasons of child abuse or domestic violence conviction, jail, serious mental or physical condition of a parent, or heavy alcohol or drug abuse, a child may be placed in the custody of one parent or a third party if both parents cannot give proper care.
Florida’s Family Law motto is “in the best interest of the child” Attorney Grant Gisondo, a board-certified Family Law lawyer, has been successfully serving clients for over a decade. He is well versed in issues regarding child custody cases and the use of a forensic psychologist when necessary. For that needing advice and representation involving child custody and living in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, or Hillsborough County or New York or Washington DC attorney Gisondo offers a free, initial, in-office consultation to answer questions and to share how he can help. You can call his office at (561) 530-4568 to make an appointment. His office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and for new clients from 8:30 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturday.