When family law judges in New Jersey and around the country are called on to resolve child custody matters, they find themselves in a position where they must make decisions that will have a profound effect on the lives of people they do not really know. They are expected to make rulings that will provide the best possible outcome for the child or children involved, but deciding how to proceed can be difficult for judges when divorcing parents are involved in a contentious dispute. This is why judges sometimes call on forensic psychologists for expert advice.
The decision to bring in a psychologist is usually only made after concerted efforts to reach an amicable agreement have failed. Psychologists usually begin a child custody evaluation by having several interviews with each of the parents involved to determine their attitudes toward one another and their strengths and weaknesses as caregivers. During these interviews, psychologists will look for signs that one parent is trying to turn the child or children against the other parent. This is known as parental alienation.
Children often feel guilty and torn when they are asked to choose the parent they will live with, which means that psychologists must take a delicate approach during interviews. Instead of asking children direct questions or implying that they must make a choice, psychologists may ask about time spent with parents enjoying hobbies, sports or other activities.
Resolving child custody disputes amicably
Experienced family law attorneys may also call on psychologists to help resolve child custody and visitation issues when divorcing parents are unable to reach an agreement and a bitter and public court battle seems inevitable. Attorneys could also suggest alternative dispute resolution approaches that work toward a compromise by identifying common ground such as the desire all parents have to see their children happy.