Child custody cases have great implications on the upbringing of children. What parenting plan is ordered can ultimately impact the lives of children in a significant way.
Custody cases also involve who is making decisions for the children. Depending on the state, this is known as legal custody or the allocation of parental responsibilities.
When family courts have to make a custody order in a divorce or paternity case, they have to weigh the best interests of the children. Weighing what is in the best interests of children involves looking various factors. One of these factors is the mental health of the parties and the children.
In some cases, one party might allege that the other parent has mental health issues that can be looked at by the family court. A judge or a guardian ad litem could also have significant questions based on what it is they have seen from the parties.
When this is the case, a psychological evaluation might be ordered by the court. If a psychological evaluation is ordered, one or both parties might be ordered to meet with a psychologist. The psychologist could engage in various action to determine the mental fitness of the parents, including:
- Interviewing the parents;
- Having the parents take various paper and pencil personality assessments;
- A review of prior mental health records; and
- Interviews of various individuals, including the children, teachers, other mental health professionals and others that might have relevant information.
In some cases, the court might simply order an expert psychological evaluation of the parties for the family court’s consideration. When this is the case, the psychologist could find that the parties do not have diagnosable disorders. Or, the psychologist could find that there are psychologist disorders. Some disorders that could be found are paranoid personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and various others.
In other circumstances, the court might request a formal custody evaluation. With a custody evaluation, the court looks at what is in the best interests of the children in light of all the factors, including the mental health of the parties. Ultimately, in these cases, a recommendation is made by the psychologist. Of course, the family court judge can either take this recommendation or may decide not to do so.
There is no question that when a psychological evaluation is ordered, this can make the child custody case more serious. Psychological evaluations are normally not ordered as a matter of course. The family court usually has to have a significant question about the mental health of one or both parties. But there are cases where this is necessary in the eyes of the family court judge when the allegations or behavior of the parties are serious enough.