Using Mental Health Professionals in Child Custody Cases
In Alabama and around the country, family court judges often turn to mental health professionals (usually psychologists or social workers) to assist them when making child custody determinations. The use of a mental health professional hired by one attorney to review the work of a court-ordered evaluator has also been used in custody cases for a number of years.
What is relatively new in the child custody field is the increased use of mental health consultants that assist parents directly (see “Mental Health Consultation in Child Custody Cases,” Innovations in Interventions with High Conflict Families by E. Hobbs-Minor, M.A. and Matthew J. Sullivan, Ph.D.). In most situations, the consultant becomes involved with one parent at the beginning of a case to help support the parent through the divorce transition or any child custody proceedings, and prepare him or her for any dispute resolution processes they may face.
The Changing Role of Mental Health Professionals in Custody Matters
Custody determinations did not always involve doctors. First men, and then women, were favored as parents, and these legal doctrines (despite blatant gender bias) were applied by judges without much consideration of case-by-case details (Psychology Today). A doctor’s role was limited to the diagnosis of serious illnesses disabling enough to upset the presumption of paternal or maternal custody.
By the 1960s and 70s, courts started rejecting presumptions in child custody cases, preferring legal standards that focus on the best interests of the child and gender equality. While this emphasis generally leads to fairer results in child custody matters, it also gives rise to more questions about parental fitness, children’s needs and other issues. Mental health professionals are called upon with increasing frequency to answer these questions.
Some people facing divorce and/or a child custody dispute may benefit from the support of a private mental health consultant as well. Consultants often help with preventing disputes form unnecessarily escalating, developing communication skills, and other objectives related to managing conflict. These services are provided confidentially, which means the use of a consultant is not disclosed to anyone other than the parent and his or her attorney (unless mandatory disclosure is applicable, as in cases of child abuse).
Contact an Experienced Child Custody Lawyer in North Alabama
When you are facing divorce and have children, custody and visitation arrangements may be some of the most difficult matters to work through during the divorce process. Contact Lana Hawkins, Attorney at Law, at The Hawkins Law Firm in Guntersville, Huntsville, and Arab for advice and representation from an experienced Alabama family law attorney.