When Should I Request a Psychological Evaluation in a Child Custody Case?

The court has an obligation to act in the best interests of the child involved in a divorce. In some situations, a parent may pose a significant risk to a child due to mental illness or psychological instability. If you are facing a divorce soon and think your spouse may have a psychological issue that could be dangerous for your child, it’s vital to understand your options and how to approach the situation.

Psychological Tests in Divorce Cases

Psychological testing plays a role in many divorce cases, even when mental illness isn’t a glaring concern for either parent. The court needs to accurately assess the parenting capability of each parent and determine whether a parent’s mental state poses a risk to the children’s safety. Some of the tests that custody evaluators may use during divorce proceedings include:

  • The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), which evaluates cognitive functioning and identifies psychological disorders.
  • The Rorschach Inkblot Test, although many psychological experts do not take the results seriously because they believe the test is subjective.
  • The Million Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMMI-3), which uses 175 true/false questions to help find personality disorders.
  • The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). This test requires respondents to view 31 black-and-white drawings of people, and draws conclusions about the respondent’s personality based on his or her answers.
  • The Ackerman-Schoedorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody (ASPECT), which includes the MMPI-2 test, IQ testing for children and their parents, interviews, and parts of the TAT.
  • The Bricklin Perceptual Scales (BPS), which focuses on discerning the child’s perception of her parents using 64 questions, picture-drawing, storytelling, and questions for the parents.

It’s important to note that both the BPS and the ASPECT tests have received harsh criticism concerning their validity. Most divorce cases may only entail one or two of these tests, but it’s important to be familiar with all of them. It’s also vital to remember that the court always has the final say in determining custody – not psychological evaluators.

Some people may feel daunted (or even insulted) to learn they must take a psychological exam to determine how fit they are to parent a child, and connecting with a reliable divorce attorney before any tests is a wise choice. Ideally, you should contact a divorce attorney as soon as you and your spouse decide that you are divorcing.

Why Should I Request These Tests?

If you are considering filing a motion during your divorce proceedings for your spouse to undergo psychological evaluation, you should reasonably expect him or her to respond in kind, so you will likely need to attend an evaluation, as well. The court does not cover the cost of testing, so in most cases a judge will decide that the costs of a psychological evaluation for either spouse must be split between them.

It’s also important to realize that psychological testing may not end up reflecting any significant issues. In some situations, demanding a psychological evaluation for your divorcing spouse can ultimately backfire and make you seem unreasonable or vindictive, which can end up hurting your side of the case.

Consult with your divorce attorney to see if he recommends filing a motion for psychological evaluation. If you suspect that your spouse has significant mental health issues that could pose a danger to your children, it is imperative that the court can positively identify these factors before making a custody determination. You must be prepared to undergo the same sort of testing and be able to absorb the related costs.

Psychological testing may not prove fruitful or helpful and may even backfire, but if your divorcing spouse’s mental health is cause for concern, it is better to be safe and request a psychological evaluation.