Therapists, psychologists, and other mental health workers and professionals play a big role in family law litigation. It is useful to know how outside experts can help navigate a case, whether it be to help the parties reach a resolution, assist the courts in making a ruling following a trial, or dealing directly with people with mental health or substance abuse issues.
One of the ways in which a mental health expert can assist in matters involving the custody of minor children is by conducting an evaluation as to what arrangements are in the best interests of the child. This can include how major decisions are made, where the child will reside primarily, what parenting time and visitation schedules are appropriate, relocation of one parent, and any other issues that the parents are unable to resolve. The court will generally appoint such an expert to investigate as to the child’s best interests. The expert can interview the child, if age-appropriate, both parents, other family members or close individuals if necessary, as well as teachers, doctors, and therapists in some situations. Frequently, the custody evaluator will also conduct psychological testing on the parents, such as the MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), in order to determine any pathologies that may impact the relationship between the parent and the child, and the parent with the other parent. After the expert releases their recommendations, this can help parties move towards a settlement. If a settlement is not an option, the mental health specialist may be called to testify as a witness at trial regarding his or her recommendations and how they came to those conclusions.
If either parent has substance abuse issues, courts may appoint a professional to conduct an evaluation as to the extent of the drug or alcohol addiction. The court may also refer litigants to classes, workshops, or other resources such as AA and NA to address the underlying issues.
Another role of mental health professionals in the context of divorce or other family law matters, including custody disputes, is providing individual therapy, family therapy, or reunification therapy, the purpose of which is to reunite children with parents in a situation where there may have been estrangement or alienation. If a child has not had any contact with a parent for an extended period of time, it is often preferred to have a professional oversee the reunification process to ensure that it is done in a healthy and safe manner, causing as little trauma to the child as possible. Furthermore, some children need the help of a therapist to transition from their two-parent household into a new reality where they are required to move back and forth into two households. Some mental health professionals also provide supervised visitation services. This generally occurs when a court has found that some risk or endangerment exists if the child is left alone with a parent. Again, the supervisor can report to the court and assist in moving the matter in a direction where an ultimate conclusion can be reached.
Any divorce, or custody dispute, can be extremely stressful and traumatic for all parties involved, including the children. When the best interests of the children are the prevailing standard in such court cases, without the advice or help of psychologists and other mental health specialists, sometimes major issues may go unaddressed, leading to further problems down the road. It is reassuring to know that various systems work together towards a common goal. The attorneys at Hurst, Robin & Kay, LLC are experienced practitioners and will be able to explain how various needs in a family law matter can be resolved with the assistance of mental health specialists. Please contact www.hrkfamilylaw.com for further information.