In a contentious custody battle during or following a divorce, the judge might order an evaluation by a professional to guide him in making a decision between parents. Custody evaluations are in-depth studies of the family’s dynamics and each parent’s suitability to raise the children. After meeting extensively with both parents, the children and sometimes other individuals who have knowledge of the family, the evaluator will submit a report to the judge making a recommendation for custody. Parents are required to fill out several forms to facilitate this process.
Parent History Forms
Most evaluators will begin with a comprehensive questionnaire called a parent history survey. The PHS might include 100 questions or more relating to the parents' marriage or relationship and the conditions under which it ended. Some evaluators may use an ASPECT, or Ackerman-Schoendorf Scales of Parent Evaluation of Custody Test, questionnaire instead of or in addition to the PHS. The PHS is open to interpretation by the evaluator, while the ASPECT questionnaire scores parents’ answers and gives the evaluator numbered results. Both of these forms focus on the parents and not the children.
On the collateral contacts form, parents can list the names and contact information for individuals they believe have pertinent information regarding their dispute. These might include friends who have witnessed the interaction between each parent and their children, teachers or pediatricians. It can name persons from each parent’s past who can attest to their character or drug or alcohol use. The evaluator will usually interview these individuals in the process of the evaluation.
Some evaluators will also ask parents to take one or more written psychological tests. The most common of these is the MMPI, or Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. It includes 567 true-or-false questions regarding a parent’s feelings on multiple issues. Some evaluators use the MCMI, or Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory instead. This one is shorter, but covers much of the same ground. At the evaluator’s discretion, more similar tests might be required.
Some evaluators will also ask parents to complete questionnaires regarding each of their children who are involved in the custody dispute. If drug or alcohol abuse is alleged, the evaluator will probably ask the parent in question to complete a release form, allowing for random testing. The evaluator might also request releases to access the child’s school or medical records.