Divorce is never easy, but when children are involved, divorce proceedings can quickly turn into intense, emotionally charged, and bitter fights as each parent is harshly scrutinized to determine his or her abilities as a parent and positive role model.

As the family court attempts to provide an outcome on custody arrangements that is both objective and positive for the children, a forensic evaluation may be ordered by the court to determine the capacity of each parent to care for the children and award legal and or/physical custody.

In many of the cases in which a forensic evaluation is ordered, it is a psychological evaluation that is requested. A psychological evaluation is intended to assess a parent’s mental health and parenting practices. While most mental health professionals administering these tests use standard psychological tests which typically reveal a parent’s psychopathology, intelligence, and personality, tests specifically designed to determine someone’s adequate parenting skills, strength of parent-child bond, the quality of the relationships, and other custody-relevant issues have been developed in recent years.

Some of the most commonly used psychological evaluations in custody cases include:

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)

MMPI is the world’s most widely used psychometric test for measuring adult psychopathology. It is designed to measure personality traits and assess and diagnose mental health disorders.

Disadvantages:

  1. There are two versions of the MMPI test — MMPI 1 and MMPI 2. They contain 338 and 567 questions, respectively. The sheer length of the test is considered a disadvantage.
  2. It is recommended that diagnosis not be made relying solely on the MMPI test; and with the MMPI test being as lengthy as it is, having to take yet an additional test to come to a conclusion is also considered a disadvantage.

Advantages:

  1. The creators of the MMPI test have gone to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of the responses by using a validity scale that makes it difficult for the respondents to fake their answers.
  2. The MMPI test is relatively cost effective and is easy to score, either by hand or using a machine.

Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-II/MCMI-III)

MCMI is another frequently used objective personality test, and it is designed to determine whether a person suffers from psychological and personality disorders.

Disadvantages:

  1. Scoring of the MCMI test is complex, making it a difficult instrument to work with.
  2. The test is better at predicting the absence of a disorder than the presence of one.
  3. This test assumes the subject is a psychiatric patient, which turns into overpathologizing of the individual.

Advantages:

  1. In comparison with the MMPI test, the MCMI is shorter, at 175 true/false questions.
  2. The MCMI test has good evidence of being efficient in diagnosing psychological and personality disorders.

Bricklin Perceptual Scales

This research-based test relies on a 64-question evaluation designed to measure how a child experiences each parent’s ability to offer emotional support and information during certain life situations, as well as their consistency and modeling of admirable traits. In custody cases, this is the most frequently used test for children. It asks the child to draw the family, to draw him or herself with each of the parents, to complete a story about how the family resolves disputes, and then proceeds to ask questions to the parents.

Disadvantages:

  1. No peer-reviewed journal has ever published a study about the utility of the BPS test.
  2. Repeat tests have shown low degree of stability, which may have an impact in cases of contested custody.
  3. The instructions for administration and scoring the BPS test are confusing.
  4. The language used in the test may be confusing for children.
  5. The BPS test has been found to be biased in favor of mothers.

Advantages:

  1. The BPS test was specifically designed for custody cases.
  2. It is accepted and relied upon by family courts in 50 states across the U.S.

Parent Awareness Skills Survey (PASS)

Designed to bring to light the strengths and weaknesses of each parent in managing typical childcare situations, this clinical tool presents parents with 18 scenarios and asks how he or she would react and manage each of them. The Parent Awareness Skills Survey identifies things like a parent’s desirability to acknowledge a child’s feelings, their ability to communicate in terms a child can understand, and whether they are able to come up with adequate solutions to everyday childcare and parenting issues.

Disadvantages:

  1. Because the PASS provides latitude to evaluators in applying their own standards, the test lacks clear and absolute scoring guidelines; therefore, concerns about the validity of the responses has been raised.

Advantages:

  1. Because this test asks questions directly related to parenting skills and evaluates a parent’s ability to manage normal, everyday childcare situations, the PASS has been highly commended by family court judges.

Custody Parental Quotient

This lesser-known research instrument is specifically designed to assess parenting skills with the purpose of providing information to assist in the resolution of a child custody case. By evaluating a parent in twelve different areas such as emotional and physical needs, good parenting, planning, and stability, the evaluator provides a single standardized score.

Disadvantages:

  1. Information about the reliability and validity of the Custody Quotient is not available.
  2. Because it was designed as a research instrument and there is no intention of developing it further, experts advise using extreme caution when relying on this test for custody decisions.

Advantages:

  1. The Custody Quotient evaluation may help an evaluator structure information from a variety of sources so that they are able make a well-informed recommendation in the best interests of the child.

Mental health professionals as well as family courts often rely on psychological testing in child custody cases; however, given the low reliability and validity of every one of these tests in determining a parent’s ability to care for a child, it is recommended these be used in the context of other forms of evidence and as confirmatory tools, rather than fully relying on their insights and results.

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