Dr James Schaller
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Custody Evaluations:
County Employee or Private Practitioner?

If you can afford a private evaluation for your child custody evaluation, it may be the best thing for the following reasons:.

  1. If you use a county employee it is unlikely you will have much input into who is used. Your "case" will simply be assigned like a customer number at a lunchmeat counter. Hopefully your local divorce lawyer will know the orientation and personality of the county evaluator, but that may not make any difference.
  2. A private clinician has the time to do a good job. If you are just "Case R86," the evaluator will likely not have time to get into the details really needed for a unique tailored plan for your child or children. In my experience, a custody plan must be a highly tailored solution to complex child needs. I often see county evaluators looking at families, and coming up with common clichˇ solutions and plans. Parents are seen as fitting into one of eight types, and no one is unique. You simply will not get the quality the child and you should have with an overworked county worker.
  3. If this is a "relocation to another state or country" evaluation, it requires a private evaluation. Why? These are simply far too complex to be done by someone who does not have the time to explore all the complex details.
  4. Private evaluators should be used if there is an accusation of physical or sexual abuse because these are always highly complex evaluations. While not every abuse accusation is true, a parent should present their concerns to the evaluator and offer the basic facts and calmly as possible. It takes time and the very highest level of training, such as an MD child psychiatrist or PhD, to explore the events that created the suspicion, to fully understand the perception of both parents and the child, and to also interview key child contact adults, e.g., teachers and after-care workers. Such evaluations are not easy, and there is no room for sloppy or rushed interviews. I used to teach smart master's level clinicians, and this level of seriousness, in my opinion, should never be handled by less than someone with a mental health doctorate.
  5. If a child is being trained to hate the other parent, this is not easily caught in rushed county evaluations. Suppose a pre-adolescent is being told some bad aspects of the other parent. They are easily manipulated and susceptible to suggestion. Often this is harmful to the child and usually can only be discerned over many hours with both parents and the child. It is not something that can be parsed in only a few hours of meetings.
  6. You generally get what you pay for in custody evaluations. I was amused to read that a lawyer thought that county evaluators, with a couple years of masters training, could do as good a job as a child and adult psychiatrist with five years of full-time training after medical school. If you go to a large bookstore, read the professional books by folks with an MA or MS degree and compare them to those books for MD's or PhD's. As a trend, the higher the training, the most sophisticated and creative the solutions you will be offered. Explore the opinions of your family, friends and your attorney. Is their a PhD or MD in your community who is a solid creative researcher or a solid clinician who is a careful thinker?

Dedicated to the parents who are currently suffering through the custody process.

Dr. Schaller.

Bank Towers, Tamiami Trail, Naples, FL
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