Oct. 17, 2011
-- Frequently family courts turn to mental health professions to help in deciding how children should be sharing their time with each parent and the roles parents are to play in their children’s lives. To this end, courts are appointing mental health professionals to conduct Parenting Plan/Timesharing Evaluations (PPTEs). The primary purpose of these PPTEs is to assess the goodness of fit between children’s needs and each of their parents’ ability to meet those needs.
As part of PPTEs, evaluators provide recommendations regarding the extent of each parent’s involvement with their children. These recommendations carry significant weight in the eyes of courts and can influence greatly the final determinations of custody disputes. PPTEs can also precipitate a settlement in an otherwise highly conflicted case. Because these evaluations are so important in child custody cases, it is critical that PPTEs be conducted in as scientific manner as possible, employing acceptable scientific methods, considering relevant behavioral science research, adhering to professional ethical guidelines and provide a continuity of data that supports their final recommendations.
There is a growing body of literature, however, that has identified PPTEs as frequently falling below professional standards in such areas as quality, reliability and utility of the PPTE reports
Some PPTEs do not follow recommended assessment procedures and present data and information to courts inappropriately, such that they actually mislead the courts and therefore lead to poor and misinformed decisions. It has been observed, for example, that some PPTEs not only include recommendations that exceed the specific data contained within the report but also exceed present limitations of scientific knowledge. It is not uncommon, for example, for evaluators’ recommendations to be contradictory to the data and statements contained within the body of their PPTE reports. In addition, some clinical professionals use and interpret assessments that may be acceptable in therapeutic settings but are totally inappropriate and misleading in forensic practice. Some evaluators fail to incorporate present child development and relevant divorce literature as a support for their recommendations. That is, they present conclusions based on clinical impressions/
judgment and opinions that are outside the state of empirical scientific research. The literature, going back 38 years, on clinical judgment has demonstrated that clinician judgment is about as accurate as flipping a coin!
Given the importance these evaluations have on family dispute cases, it is critical, therefore, that the legal community increases their awareness of the reliability and validity of PPTEs that are proffered in their cases. Below is a brief overview of some issues that need to be considered.
Dr. Robert A. Evans is conducting workshops all over Florida instructing family law attorneys on what to look for when they receive a child custody evaluation report. Attorneys need to learn what kinds of errors evaluators make and how to address them in their cases. Included in the workshop is a review of the laws, legal procedures, and professional guidelines that need to be followed in conducting these evaluations. For more information about Dr. Evans and his workshops go to: http://www.drbobevans.com
. The next one is coming up in November 2011 is in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
# # #
We provide continuing education for legal and mental health professionals in the areas of child custody evaluations, parenting plans and parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome.