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Are psychological evaluations necessary in child custody cases?

Determining who will have custody of minor children is one of the more complex decisions in a divorce. Besides determining child custody itself, courts must also make decisions about visitation rights. In Washington, as in most states, custody and related issues are determined with the best interests of the child as the primary consideration. In some cases the court may order a psychological evaluation to provide additional information before deciding custody.

Psychological evaluations can come in many forms. Counseling is the most common, but psychotherapy is also used. Surprisingly, conflict-resolution methods such as mediation and collaborative law can also be described as forms of psychological evaluation. Many divorcing parents can work out custody and parenting time on their own through mediation.

Psychological evaluations can be used to establish which party can better meet a child's needs. For example, an evaluation can specify which parenting style is best for the child. A clinical evaluation can also figure out if a child, as well as his or her parents, has other emotional or mental health issues that need to be addressed.

A psychological evaluation is usually just one factor that can influence a court's decision to award custody when parents cannot reach an agreement on their own. A Washington parent who is involved in a custody dispute can benefit from having an experienced family law attorney on their side. With the assistance of knowledgeable counsel on both sides, parents are often able to settle the issue amicably and without litigation, thus avoiding conflicts that could endanger the well-being of the child.

Source: American Psychological Association, "Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings," accessed on Jan. 15, 2015

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