Welcome to SPARC Forums. Please login or sign up.

May 21, 2024, 06:46:29 AM

Login with username, password and session length

Child Custody Evaluation Practices: A Survey of Experienced Professionals

1997, Vol. 28, No. 2, 137-145 - © 1997 by the American Psychological Association Inc.

Marc J. Ackerman
Wisconsin School of Professional Psychology

Melissa C. Ackerman
University of Denver


W. G. Keilin and L. J. Bloom (1986) explored 70 issues related to child custody evaluation practices. The current study replicates Keilin and Bloom's study and looks at an additional 42 items. Two hundred and one psychologists from 39 states were surveyed about 112 aspects of child custody evaluation practices. The analysis was divided into evaluation practices, sole-joint custody decision making, and recommendations. Comparisons between the findings of this study and those of Keilin and Bloom are made. The current practice of child custody evaluations is reported.



How would you perform a child custody evaluation in your practice tomorrow? What tests would you use? Who would you interview? How many sessions would you use? What fee would you charge?

Before 1986, a number of models for child custody evaluations had been proposed (Chasin & Grunebaum, 1981; Jackson, Warner, Hornbein, Nelson, & Fortescue, 1980; Landberg, 1982 ), but little empirical research had been performed to guide mental health professionals in this evaluation process. Karras and Berry (1985) provided a critical review of child custody evaluation practices up to that time.

Keilin and Bloom (1986) explored and described the practices of mental health professionals in child custody evaluation procedures. They surveyed 302 psychologists, psychiatrists, and masters'-level practitioners, but only 82 fit their selection criteria and were included in their analysis. The respondents had an average of 16.1 years of clinical experience and had done an average of 156.5 custody evaluations each. The questionnaire used by Keilin and Bloom consisted of 70 items, which surveyed demographics, custody evaluation practices, and professional decision making. The results of their study, especially the tables, have been quoted widely and used repeatedly during the past decade. As a result, Keilin and Bloom's report has represented the standard of practice for psychologists performing child custody evaluations for the last 10 years.

Since 1986, the psychological community has been active in addressing custody evaluation practices. A number of states, such as Georgia, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, have recognized the need for guidelines to help psychologists in this process, which has become more complicated over time (Georgia Psychological Association, 1990; Nebraska Psychological Association, 1986; New Jersey State Board of Psychological Examiners, 1993; Oklahoma Psychological Association, 1988). In addition, several authors have provided texts for child custody evaluators in the last decade. Schutz, Dixon, Lindenberger, and Ruther (1989) offered the first such effort.

In recent years, Stahl (1994) and Ackerman (1995 ) have authored broad-based texts to aid in this process. Moreover, a number of tests have been developed in the last decade. Bricklin (1984) developed a whole series of tests to be-used in custody evaluations. Gordon and Peek (1988) developed an experimental inventory for this purpose. Ackerman and Schoendorf (1992) developed the Ackerman-Schoendorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody (ASPECT) to address 56 different variables used in child custody determination disputes. Brodzinsky (1993) reviewed a number of instruments used in child custody evaluations. He concluded that, despite the limitations of these alternative assessment procedures, they represent a valuable addition to the field of child custody evaluations.

The American Psychological Association (APA, 1994) also recently developed guidelines for child custody evaluations. These guidelines state, "As guidelines, they are not intended to be either mandatory or exhaustive" (p. 677). This statement is somewhat misleading given that many of the 16 guidelines presented are directly tied to ethical principles set forth in the most recent edition of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct ( APA, 1992 ). Because the APA guidelines apply only to psychologists, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC, 1994) also developed a set of guidelines (which closely parallel the APA guidelines) that are meant to apply to all individuals performing child custody evaluations.

We performed the current study to replicate and extend Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study. Our study included the 70 original items from Keilin and Bloom's exploration and an additional 42 items that represent variables that have become part of child custody evaluation practices during the past decade.


The Child Custody Survey


We asked a total of 800 psychologists to participate. Four hundred psychologists' names were provided by psychologists or psychological associations from around the country. The other 400 names were provided by members of the American Bar Association Family Law Section, who were each asked to submit names of two experienced psychologists who performed child custody evaluations and were respected by the court. To be included in this study, participants had to have been involved in at least 10 child custody evaluations.

Of the 800 questionnaires mailed, 338 (or 42%) were returned. Of the 338 returned, 91 were returned blank, 22 were returned as undeliverable, 13 were returned by social workers or MD's, 6 were returned partially completed, and 5 were from respondents who had not performed the minimum criterion of 10 evaluations. As a result, 201 respondents fit the selection criteria and were included in this analysis.

The mean age of the respondents was 49.1 years, and 69% were men. Ail of the respondents were Caucasian. One hundred percent of the sample were doctoral-level psychologists who averaged 19.0 years of practice; 59% had degrees in clinical psychology, 13% in counseling psychology, 5% in educational psychology, 4% in school psychology, 4% in child psychology, 11% in "psychology" and 4% in "other". The average number of child custody evaluations performed by this sample was 214.9. Eighty-eight percent of the sample designated their primary employment setting as private practice, with 6% in academia, 2% in hospital settings, and 4% in other settings. We received questionnaires from individuals in 39 states, with the following distribution: 21% from the West, 24% from the East, 39% from the Midwest, and 15% from the South. The 112 items in the present survey were divided into the original four sections used in Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study. The first section dealt with demographic data. The second section focused on the following custody evaluation practices: employment capacity, custody evaluation procedures, behavioral observations, psychological tests used, the use of co-evaluators, and fees. The third section was the custody decision-making section, which was divided into the two major categories of sole- or single-parent custody and joint custody. The last section covered recommendations made in child custody evaluation practices.

We mailed the questionnaire, along with a stamped return envelope, to each participant. A cover letter requesting participation and giving the rationale for the study was included with the questionnaire. No follow-up letters or reminders were sent to the participants who failed to respond to the initial mailing.


Condition of Retainment


Participants were asked to report whether they preferred to be retained by one parent or attorney, to be retained by both parents or attorneys, or to be appointed by the court or guardian ad litem in a particular case. Over the past decade, there has been a major shift in how psychologists prefer to be retained in custody evaluations. None of the participants in 1996 preferred to be retained by one parent or attorney. The most notable shift was a 31% increase in the number of individuals preferring to be retained by the court or guardian ad litem. Almost 100% of the sample preferred to be retained either by the court or guardian ad litem or by both attorneys together.


Evaluation Procedures


Participants were asked to indicate the average amount of time spent in various areas of the psychological evaluation. In 1986, Keilin and Bloom found that the average psychological evaluation required 18.8 hours to complete. The current study showed an increase to 21.1 hours in the evaluation process. Psychologists are spending approximately the same amount of time performing psychological tests, interviewing parents and children, consulting with attorneys, testifying in court, and testifying in collateral contacts as they did 10 years ago. However, they are spending considerably more time reviewing materials and twice as much time writing reports as they did 10 years ago. (See Table 1)

The questionnaire used in our study asked for an elaboration on behavioral observations that was not part of Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study. Participants were asked to indicate whether they preferred to observe each parent with each child alone, each parent with all children together, both parents with each child alone, or both parents with all children together. Only 9% of the participants preferred to observe both parents together with the children in any form, whereas 91% preferred to see each of the parents separately with the child or children.

In addition, we asked participants to indicate whether they preferred to provide a structured task during behavioral observations. Forty percent preferred to provide a structured task during behavioral observations, whereas the other 60% did not.









































Table 1 - Summary of Reported Custody Evaluation Procedures


Activity


M hr spent in activity


Observations


2.6


Reviewing materials


2.6


Collateral contacts


1.6


Psychological testing


5.2


Report writing


5.3


Interviewing parents


4.7


Interviewing children


2.7


Interviewing significant others


1.6


Consulting with attorneys


1.2


Testifying in court


2.2






Psychological Testing



Participants were asked to list all of the tests that they had ever used in custody evaluations for children and adults and the percentage of time that each of these tests had been used. Summaries of the results are given in Tables 2 and 3.

In our study, 8.0% of the participants reported that they did not test children, 2.0% did not test adults, and 1.5% did not test either children or adults. These results are considerably different from Keilin and Bloom's (1986) results of 10 years ago. Keilin and Bloom reported that approximately 25% of individuals tested neither children nor adults. However, because only 64% of their sample were psychologists, it is difficult to make a comparison. In the current study, respondents reported administering an average of 4.8 tests to children and 4.5 tests to adults.

In Table 2, several things are notable. The use of the Bender Gestalt is down considerably compared with its usage 10 years ago. In contrast, the use of sentence completion tasks has increased significantly. Furthermore, drawing tasks, in general, are used considerably more now than 10 years ago. Although the Rorschach is lower on the list of preferred tests, the percentage of time that it is used has not changed noticeably in the last 10 years.

Many tests are being used more frequently now than 10 years ago. Twice as many tests have achieved, double-digit percentages now as compared with 10 years ago. The most notable increase in usage is with the Bricklin Perceptual Scales. Although it was not reported in Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study, it was reported to be used by slightly more
than one third of the current respondents.




























































































































































Table 2 - Frequency of Use of Psychological Tests
With Children in Custody Evaluations

Current Study


Keilin & Bloom (1986) study


Test


% of respondents using test


M % time used


Rank


% of respondents using test


M % time used


Intelligence Test (WISC-III, SB:FE, K-ABC, McCarthy)


58


45


1


45


85


Children's Apperception Test; Thematic Apperception Test


37


53


2


39


75


Bricklin Perceptual Scales


35


66


Sentence Completion


29


76


8


12


71


Achievement Test


28


56


6


21


76


Rorschach


27


48


4


29


78


Miscellaneous projective drawings


24


72


3


33


86


MMPI - Adolescent


20


49


House-Tree-Person


19


76


9


10


83


Kinetic Family Drawing


18


87


10


9


94


Perceptions Of Relationships Test


16


64


Millon Adolescent Personality Inventory


11


41


Bender-Gestalt


11


73


5


23


81


Roberts Apperception Test


10


69


12


9


54


Personality Inventory for Children


5


70


Family Relations Test


5


65


13


7


90


Achenbach


4


86


Slossea


3


64


Children's Depression Inventory


3


71


Connors


3


40


NOTE: WISC-III = Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (3rd ed.); SB:FE = Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale:
Fourth Edition; K-ABC = Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children. Percentages have been rounded to the
nearest whole number.




When looking at the results for the tests administered to adults (Table 3), one recognizes several considerations that are noteworthy. Although the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) has remained the most frequently used test, it is used by 20% more respondents now than it was 10 years ago. In the present study, the MMPI-2 was not discriminated from the original MMPI, as respondents did not indicate which of the two tests was being used. The high frequency of MMPI-2 usage may be of some concern, because recent research (Ackerman & O'Leary, 1995 ) reports mean K scores up to 60.7; thus, the utility of the clinical scales and content scales for interpretive purposes is reduced.

The Rorschach remains the second most frequently used test, with an increase of over 6% in usage. Four of the top five tests used in 1996 are the same as those used in 1986. The use of the Bender-Gestalt with children has dropped considerably. However, although the use of projective drawings with children has increased, their use is noticeably less with adults. The California Personality Inventory (CPI) was used by only one of the 201 participants.

The most noteworthy increase in adult testing was the use of the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-II (MCMI-II) and the MCMI-III. It was not reported in use 10 years ago. Today, slightly more than one third of the sample reported using the MCMI-II or the MCMI-III. This use may be cause for concern, because the MCMI-II and MCMI-III are to be used only with clinical populations, not the presumed normal population found in child custody evaluations (Ackerman & Kane, 1993).

It is of particular note that approximately 31% of the sample used both the MMPI or MMPI-2 and the MCMI-II or MCMI-III. Last, it should be noted that four of the top nine tests used were not in publication 10 years ago. Dozens of minor instruments were reported once or twice. In most of the cases, individuals using these minor instruments used them 100% of the time in their custody evaluations



Custody Test Usage



We studied the use of tests specifically designed or endorsed for custody evaluations. We compared the use of the ASPECT, Bricklin Perceptual Scales (BPS), Perception of Relationships Test (PORT), Parent Awareness of Skills Survey (PASS), Parent Perception of Child Profile (PPCP), Parent-Child Relationship Inventory (PCRI), and Custody Quotient. Forty-nine percent of the respondents used none of these tests. Of the respondents using the Bricklin Perceptual Scales, 80% were from throughout the United States, and 20% were from Bricklin's area of the country. Two thirds of the respondents using the ASPECT were from throughout the United States, and one third were from Ackerman's area of the country. Only three participants, all of them from Pennsylvania, used all of the Bricklin instruments. Fifty-screen percent of the participants
using the ASPECT also administered the Bricklin Perceptual Scales. Most of the individuals using the Custody Quotient were from the author's area of the country, and 100% of those using the PCRI were from throughout the States.



































































































































































Table 3 - Frequency of Use of Psychological Tests
With Adults in Custody Evaluations

Current Study


Keilin & Bloom (1986) Study


Test






% of respondents using tests


M % time used


Rank


% of respondents using tests


M % time used


Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or Minnesota Multiphasic

Personality Inventory-- 2nd ed.


92


91


1


71


88


Rorschach


48


64


2


42


67


Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale—Revised


43


49


4


29


67


Millon Clinical Mulfiaxial Inventory II or III


34


73


Thematic Apperception Test


29


56


3


38


67


Sentence Completion


22


88


6


12


76


Ackerman-Schoendoff Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody


11


89


Parent-Child Relationship Inventory


11


73


Wide Range Achievement Test--Revised & 3rd ed.


10


78


Projective drawings


9


75


8


6


80


Bender-Gestalt


9


82


5


12


83


Parenting Stress Index


9


39


Parent Awareness Skills Survey


8


94


16 Personality Factor


8


67


9


6


60


Child Abuse Potential


6


46


House-Tree-Person


6


85


12


4


47


Beck Depression Inventory


6


70


Shipley Hartford


5


80


Custody Quotient


4


57


Michigan Alcohol Screen Test


3


45


Adult Adolescent Parenting Inventory


3


78

NOTE: Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number




The ASPECT was the most frequently used of the custody tests for adults. Four out of the top five tests for children and adults are those required for usage in administering the ASPECT. That list has not changed substantially from 1986 to 1996; thus, the new study does not reflect a change in the usage of the ASPECT. The BPS is the most frequently used custody test for children; in fact, there were some respondents who use Bricklin tests exclusively in their custody evaluation process.

The Custody Quotient was the first of the custody measures to be developed. It remains experimental today; it is unlikely to be revised, according to the authors. The Uniform Child Custody Evaluation System (UCCES) has been available for almost two years, but it was used by only one respondent in this study. The PCRI is a relatively new test that was not developed specifically for custody usage. However, it has been marketed as a test that can be used in helping determine custody. In slightly less than two years since publication, it has become the eighth most frequently used test for adults in custody evaluations.



Co-Evaluators



Respondents used co-evaluators rarely: Only 16% of the psychologists reported using them. When co-evaluators were used, respondents preferred to use an opposite-sex co-evaluator 57% of the time and had no preference 39% of the time.



Fees



The range for testing fees was $45 to $250, and the range for testifying was $40 to $500. The average hourly fee reported for psychological testing was $120.63, whereas the average hourly fee for testifying was $154.77. Half of the respondents preferred to receive the full retainer before testing, whereas, 44% preferred to receive a partial retainer prior to testing. Only 5% of the respondents required no retainer prior to testing. Fees were handled differently for court testimony, however. Eighty-three percent of respondents required full payment for court testimony prior to testifying, and 7% required only partial payment prior to court testifying; 10% had no requirement.

The average cost of a custody evaluation was $2,645.96. The range of average fees for custody evaluations was $650 to $15,000. The average fee for a custody evaluation has almost tripled in the past 10 years. Forty-one percent of the respondents had the same hourly fee for testing as they did for testifying.



Custodial Decision Making



Sole- or single-parent custody. Psychologists' attitudes toward sole- or single-parent custody were examined in the same manner as Keilin and Bloom (1986) did. Keilin and Bloom originally studied 21 different items in this category. The current study added 19 items. Each item contained one piece of information.

Participants were asked to rate how important this piece of information was in making a custody recommendation using a 9-point Likert-type scale. Furthermore, for each variable, the respondent was asked to determine whether he or she would endorse Parent A, Parent B, or Neither Parent on the basis of that item. The mean ratings, parental endorsements, and comparisons with Keilin and Bloom's original study are found in Table 4.

















































































































































































































































































































































Table 4 - Mean Ratings of Sole- or Single-Parent Custody Decision-Making Criteria


Item


Item rating


Parent Endorsement (%)


Keilin and Bloom (1986) rank


M


SD


Parent A


Parent B


Neither


Parent B is an active alcoholic


8.35


0.88


81


2


17


Parent B often attempts to alienate the child from the other parent by negatively interpreting the other parent's behavior


8.12


0.88


76


2


23


2


Parent A exhibits better parenting than Parent B


7.94


0.83


78


2


21


5


The child appears to have a closer emotional bonding with Parent B


7.70


0.83


1


70


30


3


Parent B appears to be more psychologically stable than Parent A


7.70


0.79


2


70


27


4


Parent A has not been cooperative with previous court orders


7.62


1.04


3


60


37


Parent A is threatening to move to another state with the children


7.53


1.17


1


36


64


Parent B is more tolerant of other Parent visitation


7.52


1.03


1


64


36


6


Parent A actively participates in children's education


7.33


0.92


46


1


54


Parent A exhibits a great deal of anger and bitterness about the divorce


7.24


1.14


0


.50


49


8


Physical abuse allegation has been made against Parent B


7.15


1.62


9


0


91


The 15-year-old child would prefer to live with Parent A


7.15


0.96


53


0


47


1


Sexual abuse allegation has been made against Parent A


7.14


1.64


1


9


90


Parent B has a history of psychiatric hospitalizations


7.14


1.06


39


1


60


Parent A has a criminal record


7.06


1.13


1


41


64


Parent A is aware of the children's future needs


7.03


1.07


39


3


58


Before the divorce, Parent A had primary caretaking responsibility


7.00


1.23


55


1


45


7


Parent A uses physical punishment and Parent B does not


6.86


1.21


4


49


47


Parent B is aware of the children's relevant school information


6.83


1.05


0


35


65


Parent A has significantly worse MMPI results


6.77


1.17


1


43


56


Parent B is aware of the children's developmental milestones


6.74


1.56


1


36


64


Parent B is significantly less intelligent than the children


6.57


1.33


37


1


62


Parent A is a recovering alcoholic


6.38


1.27


2


8


89


Before the divorce parent B had primary responsibility for disciplining the children


6.26


1.15


0


25


75


14


Parent B has more extended family available


6.23


1.10


1


25


75


Parent A's schedule would require placing the child in day care. Parent B would not


6.22


1.29


6


37


57


13


Parent B is taking psychiatric medication


6.20


1.29


6


1


93


Parent A has remained living in the original family home, while Parent B has moved to a home in a different school district


6.15


1.48


32


1


68


12


Parent A appears to be much more economically stable than Parent B


5.97


1.23


26


1


73


11


The 10-year-old child would prefer to live with Parent A


5.70


1.02


18


1


81


Parent A's new partner has children living with him or her


5.52


1.75


3


3


94


Parent B is currently involved in a homosexual relationship


5.41


1.86


12


0


88


9


Parent A is much more socially active than Parent B


5.25


138


8


2


89


18


Parent B is the same sex as the child


5.06


1.55


0


9


91


19


Parent B is cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex (without marriage), while Parent A lives alone


4.93


1.74


5


3


92


16


Parent B is cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex (without marriage), while Parent A has remarried


4.87


1.81


13


1


86


15


5-year-old child would prefer to live with Parent B


4.84


1.44


2


6


92


10


Parent A has remarried, and Parent B lives alone


4.66


1.72


8


0


92


17


Parent A is the mother, and Parent B is the father


4.19


1.72


1


1


99


20


Parent A is 10 years older than Parent B


3.28


1.77


0


1


99


21







It is apparent from reviewing these data that psychologists are more careful in their decision-making process in 1996 than they were in 1986. In 1986, over 50% of the items prompted an endorsement of Parent A or Parent B. However, in the current study, less than 25% of the items resulted in endorsement of one parent over the other. The highest rated item, with a mean score of 8.35, was "Parent B is an active alcoholic." This item was not presented in Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study. In our study, 81% of the respondents indicated that they would recommend placement with the other parent when one parent was an active alcoholic. Those items that were rated second, third, fourth, and fifth most important in 1986 remained second, third, fourth, and fifth most important in 1996; however, they were in a different order. The item that was considered to be the most important variable in making a decision in 1986 was "The 15 year-old child would prefer to live with Parent A." In 1996, this was the 12th most important item, with barely 53% endorsement, compared with a 93% endorsement in 1986. The ninth most important item in 1986 was "one of the parents being a homosexual," with 54% of the respondents in 1986 indicating that they would select the non-homosexual parent.

However, in 1996, the homosexuality of a parent became the 32nd most important item, with 88% of the respondents indicating that they would not recommend either parent on the basis of sexual preference.

In summary, when one looks at the 40 items evaluated, the top items in 1986, for the most part, remained the top items in 1996. The bottom items in 1986 remained the bottom items in 1996. Well over half of the new items introduced in 1996 were in the middle of the list of importance, indicating that the newer items are of greater concern today than the lower items were in 1986.

Joint custody. Keilin and Bloom (1986) evaluated 25 items on a 9-point Likert-type scale. We added five items to the 1996 study in the area of joint custody recommendation. The results are found in Table 5.






























































































































































Table 5 - Rank Ordering of Joint Custody Decision-Making Criteria

ItemItem Rating
M SD
Keilin & Bloom (1986) rank

Ability of the parents to separate their interpersonal difficulties from their parenting decisions


8.33


0.69


5


The quality of relationship the child has with each parent


8.28


0.76


2


Problems with substance abuse


8.15


0.79


Psychological stability of the parents


7.99


0.74


4


The amount of anger and bitterness between the parents


7.98


1.04


6


The parents' willingness to enter joint custody arrangements


7.79


1.24


3


Expressed wishes of the child, age 15


7.65


0.91


1


Cooperation with previous court dates


7.42


1.13


Problems with the law


7.35


1.12


Current state law


7.24


1.74


7


Each parent's previous involvement in caretaking responsibilities


7.11


1.24


12


Whether the child exhibits behavior problems at school


6.86


1.22


8


Geographic proximity of parental homes


6.81


1.48


10


Differences between parental discipline styles


6.64


1.19


13


Amount of flexibility in parents' work schedules


6.45


1.17


14


Economic stability of the parents


6.23


1.25


17


Influences of extended family members (e.g., in-laws and close relatives)


6.20


1.18


15


Expressed wishes of the child, age 10


6.19


1.01


9


Age of the children


6.17


1.67


11


Availability of extended family members


6.09


1.18


Intelligence of the parents


6.05


1.34


Whether or not the child is placed in day care while the parent works


5.98


1.50


18


Economic and physical similarities or differences between parental homes


5.57


1.56


21


Whether or not one parent is involved in a homosexual relationship


5.36


1.92


16


Differences between parents' religious beliefs


5.25


1.69


22


Marital status of each parent: remained, single, or cohabiting


5.19


1.77


20


Number of children in the family


5.18


1.65


23


Expressed wishes of the child, age 5


4.94


1.52


19


Gender of the child


4.91


1.65


24


Age of parents


4.36


1.69


25







The top six items in 1986 remained six out of the top seven items in 1996. Problems with substance abuse, an item not evaluated in 1986, was the third highest ranked item in the current study. The bottom six items in 1986 were five out of the six bottom items in the 1996 study. As with the sole custody decision making, the most noticeable difference in

the 1996 study was that the expressed wishes of the 15-year-old child moved from the most important item in joint custody decision making to the seventh most important item in the current study. Problems with the law and cooperation with previous court dates - previously not studied - were identified as important indicators in the current study.

Custodial recommendations. Participants were asked to indicate their preference for custody placement arrangements. Respondents were asked to indicate the percentage of time they recommended sole- or single-parent custody without visitation (3%), sole- or single-parent custody with visitation (32%), joint custody with primary placement with one parent (46%), and joint custody with shared placement (18%).

After being asked about their custody preference, the respondents were asked to list three reasons why sole custody would be a preferred recommendation, three reasons why sole custody would not be a preferred recommendation, three reasons why joint custody would be a preferred recommendation, and three reasons why joint custody would not be a preferred recommendation (see Tables 6 and 7). As would be expected, the responses as to why sole custody should be used and joint custody should not be used were almost all the same. In a similar manner, the reasons why sole custody should not be used and joint custody should be used were mostly the same. It is also noteworthy that the level of cooperation or lack thereof seen between the parents was at or near the top of the list in all of the categories.

The consistency of responses is also noted when one compares the results in this section with the results in the sole- or single-parent custody versus joint custody list. Those items rated highest on the sole- or stogie-parent custody anti joint custody preference lists were, for the most part, the items rated highest in this portion of the questionnaire.

The respondents were also asked to indicate how they felt about joint versus sole custody on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (poor idea) to 5 (very good idea). The respondents felt that joint custody as a choice rated 4.0, whereas sole custody as a choice rated 3.1. Participants recommended splitting placement of the siblings between parents 6% of the time, and they recommended foster placement for children 3% of the time. The respondents recommended mediation for the parents 49% of the time. In addition, respondents felt that children should be allowed to choose which parent they live with at a mean age of 15.1 years. Last, respondents were asked if psychologists should be allowed to testify to the "ultimate issue"; 65% said they should be allowed to testify to the ultimate issue, whereas 21% said that psychologists should not be allowed to testify to the ultimate issue, 7% did not know, and 6% did not know what "ultimate issue" meant.

Testifying to the ultimate issue (i.e., the question being asked by the court) is an issue that has been somewhat controversial in recent years. There are individuals who believe that psychologists should not testify about who should have placement of the children, whether visits should be allowed or not, or whether those visits should be supervised or not. Over three quarters of those stating a preference indicated that psychologists should be allowed to testify to these issues contrary to a vocal minority who feel that it is not within the psychologists' purview to do so. It is also of note that some people performing custody evaluations did not know what was meant by "ultimate issue."



















































Table 6 - Reasons Sole Custody Is Preferred or Not Preferred

Sole custody preferred


Item


%


Parent psychotic, mentally ill, or unable to function


61


Inability to communicate, resolve conflicts, or lack of cooperation


56


Evidence of physical or sexual abuse


38


Alcohol or other drug abuse


33


Geographical distance between parents


17


Sole custody not preferred


Item


%


Attached or bonded to both parents; evidence of relationship with both parents


83


Parents cooperate


58


Sole custody excludes other parent


23


Both parents have equal skills


17


Sole custody facilitates alienation


10






















































Table 7 - Reasons Joint Custody Is Preferred or Not Preferred

Joint custody preferred


Item


%


More cooperation, communication, or absence of conflict


82


Attachment to both parents


57


Both parents psychologically healthy


28


More parenting and child rearing for both parents


25


Desire of parents


16


Joint custody not preferred


Item


%


Parents do not cooperate or communicate


69


Conflict or hostility between parents


57


Geographical distance between parents


41


Family or domestic violence history


28


Children cannot adjust to transitions or are too young


22









Conclusions



The conclusions that can be drawn from this study provide considerable information that may be useful to
both psychologists and attorneys in understanding current child custody evaluation practices. Following are
the conclusions we have drawn.


  1. Child custody evaluators still prefer to serve in an impartial capacity, with almost 100% indicating they prefer to be retained by both parents or the court.



  2. The average child custody evaluation, with report writing, takes 26.4 hours, which is 7.6 hours greater than it was in Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study. However, almost ail of this difference comes from the increased amount of time spent reviewing materials and report writing.



  3. Psychologists spend an additional 3 to 4 hours consulting with attorneys and testifying in court.



  4. The average fee for a custody evaluation is $2,646; almost triple what it was 10 years ago.



  5. Each child generally receives an intelligence test; personality tests, such as the Children's Apperception Test (CAT), the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), or Rorschach; an achievement test; a sentence completion test; and the BPS.



  6. Each adult generally receives the MMPI or MMPI-2, the MCMI-II or MCMI-III, the Rorschach, an intelligence test, and the TAT.



  7. The ASPECT is the most frequently used custody test for adults and the BPS is the most frequently used custody test for children.



  8. Ninety-five percent of psychologists require some or all of the testing fee to be paid in advance, with 50% requiring all of it be paid in advance.



  9. Eight-three percent of psychologists require full payment of fees prior to testifying in court.



  10. When a forced choice is presented concerning sole custody recommendations, respondents rate active substance abuse, parental alienation, parenting skills, psychological stability, and emotional bonding with parents as the most important considerations. When an open-ended choice is presented, geographical distance between parents and evidence of physical and sexual abuse are added to the above list.



  11. When a forced choice is presented concerning joint custody, respondents rate parents' ability to separate interpersonal difficulties from their parenting decisions, quality of relationship with child, problems with substance abuse, psychological stability of parents, the amount of anger and bitterness between parents, and the parents' willingness to enter into joint custody arrangements as the most important considerations. On an open-ended question, respondents rate parents' ability to cooperate, attachment with both parents, psychological health of parents, ability to engage in more child rearing, and the desire of the parents as the most important variables.



  12. Parental cooperation is the variable that is presented most frequently on open-ended choices of sole versus joint custody.



  13. Joint custody is much more preferred now than it was 10 years ago.



  14. On the whole, psychologists think joint custody is a good idea and are neutral on making sole custody recommendations.



  15. Mediation is recommended by almost 50% of the evaluators.



  16. The mean age at which children should be allowed to choose the parent they will live with is 15.1 years.



  17. Evaluators are much less likely to make a recommendation on the basis of a single issue than 10 years ago.



  18. Evaluators today rely more on psychological testing than they did 10 years ago.



  19. Alcoholism is a major negative variable, but being in recovery is not.






The results of this study raise a number of important practical and professional issues. The sexual preference of a parent is basically a non-issue today in comparison with 10 years ago. In addition, the evaluators in the current study were more sophisticated in that they did not rely on the expressed wishes of a 15-year-old as much as was
previously the case. It should also be noted that the practices of a majority of the participants were parallel with the guidelines established by the APA and with the comprehensive approach identified by various authors (Ackerman, 1995; Clark, 1995; C. Gindes, 1995; Stahl, 1994).

The number of differences between Keilin and Bloom's (1986) sample and the current sample are noteworthy. It would have been helpful to perform statistical analyses to determine if there were statistically significant differences between the earlier sample and the current sample. However, because Keilin and Bloom's study included psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, whereas the present study included only psychologists, such a comparison might not be meaningful.

The distribution of the participants was very heavily weighted in the West in Keilin and Bloom's study, whereas there was a more even distribution of participants in the current study. Furthermore, the evaluators in the current study were older, had more years in practice, and had performed more custody evaluations.

Some caution must be taken in comparing the results from Keilin and Bloom's (1986) study with the current results, because only 64 psychologists were included in their sample. The other 16 participants were MD's or masters'-level practitioners. Our study involved almost three and a half times as many psychologists and no MD's or social workers.

There are a number of limitations in our study. The sample was made up of l00% Caucasians, and 88% were in independent practice. It is likely that, as the cost of evaluations increases, the ability of people to afford custody evaluations diminishes. It is also likely that public sector institutions (especially courts) are going to be less able to provide the resources to pay for evaluations.

Results from our study note that psychologists are spending considerably more time performing custody evaluations than they did 10 years ago. However, our study did not identify the reasons that more time is being spent. The increased time could be the result of risk variables, a greater awareness of the research, or integration of more variables.

The data may also be skewed because of some extreme responses of certain individuals. For example, one individual indicated he charged $15,000 for an average custody evaluation. The next highest charge was $10,000. All the rest of the evaluators charged less than $10,000. In addition, one evaluator with 2 years experience performed approximately 30 custody evaluations and indicated that his average evaluation took 82 hours. The results of this study are most appropriately interpreted when applying to individuals who seek custody evaluations in independent practice settings.

In conclusion, this study demonstrated that psychologists have become more sophisticated in the custody evaluation process in that they use more test results, review more materials, and are less likely to make recommendations on the basis of a single variable. We anticipate that the complexity of issues in custody cases will continue to increase, and we hope that additional research is undertaken to build on the results of our study.









Marc J. Ackerman received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in 1972. He is currently a professor at the Wisconsin School of Professional Psychology, is the director of psychological services at Charter Behavioral Health Systems, Milwaukee, and is in independent practice. His research interests include family law cases, personal injury cases, and sexual abuse cases, and he has published books and articles for attorneys, psychologists, and the general public in these areas.



Melissa C. Ackerman is a senior at the University of Denver, where she is completing a BA in psychology. She has been involved in family interaction and family relationship research for 2 years and has worked in the area of domestic violence.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marc J. Ackerman, 250 West Coventry Court. Suite
209, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53217.


Professional Psychology: Research and Practice

1997, Vol. 28, No. 2, 137-145

Copyright 1997 by the American Psychological Association Inc.






Ackerman, M. J. (1995). A clinicians guide to child custody evaluations. New York: Wiley.


Ackerman, M.J., & Kane, A. W. (1993). Psychological experts in divorce, personal injury, and other civil actions (2nd ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Wiley.


Ackerman, M. J., & O'Leary, U-M. (1995, August). The MMPI and MMPI-2 in child custody cases. Paper presented at the 103rd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, New York, N.Y.


Ackerman, M. J., & Schoendorf, K. (1992). Ackerman-Schoendorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody (ASPECT). Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.


American Psychological Association. (1992). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist. 47. 1597-1611.


American Psychological Association. (1994). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in divorce proceedings. American Psychologist. 49. 677-680.


Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (A/CC). (1994). Model standards of practice for child custody evaluation. Family Conciliation 32. 504-513


Bricklin, B. (1984). Bricklin Perceptual Scales. Furlong, PA: Village.


Brodzinsky, D.M: (1993). On the use and misuse psychological testing in child custody evaluations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24, 213- 219.


Chasin. R. & Grunebaum. H. ( 1981 ). A model for evaluation in child custody. Journal of Divorce, 4 (4), 57-67.


Clark, B. K. (1995). Acting in the best interest of the child: Essential components of a child custody evaluation. Family Law Quarterly, 29. 19-38.


Georgia Psychological Association. (1990). Recommendations for psychologists' involvement in child custody cases. Atlanta, GA: Author.


Gindes, M. (1995). Guidelines for child custody evaluations for psychologists: An overview and commentary. Family Law Quarterly, 29, 39-50.


Gordon R., & Peek, L. A. (1988). The custody quotient. Dallas, TX: Willmington Institute.


Jackson, A. M., Warner, N. S., Horbein, R., Nelson. N., & Fortescue. E. (1980). Beyond the best interests of the child revisited. An approach to custody evaluations. Journal of Divorce. 3. 207-222.


Karras, D., & Berry, K.K. (1985). Custody evaluations: A critical review. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 16. 76-85.


Keilin, W. G., & Bloom, L.J. (1986). Child custody evaluation practices: A survey of experienced professionals. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 17. 338-346.


Landberg, G. (1982). Proposed model for the intervention of the mental health specialist in the resolution of difficult child custody disputes. Journal of Preventive Psychiatry. 1, 309-318.


Nebraska Psychological Association. (1986). Guidelines for child custody evaluations. Lincoln, NE: Author.


New Jersey State Board of Psychological Examiners. (1993). Specialty guidelines for psychologists in custody/visitation evaluations. Newark, NJ: Author.


Oklahoma Psychological Association. (1988). Ethical guidelines for child custody evaluations. Oklahoma City, OK: Author.


Schutz, B. M., Dixon, E. B., Lindenberger, J. C., & Ruthex, N. J. ( 1989 ). Solomon's sword: A practical guide to conducting child custody evaluations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Staid, P. M. (.1994). Conducting child custody evaluations: A comprehensive guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.





Received February 14, 1996

Revision received September 5, 1996

Accepted November 5, 1996

Articles in « Parenting Evals »