Your options after receiving a “bad” child custody evaluation: Advice from a forensic psychologist

The child custody evaluation process should involve a rather systematic method of gathering information, formulating a hypothesis, and rendering opinions pertaining to the best interests of the children involved. Unfortunately, not all psychologists or mental health professionals are properly trained or even qualified to conduct these evaluations, yet they continue to perform them and have the potential to cause more damage than good. 

 If you believe that the results of your family’s social investigation were unfair, biased, or poorly executed, you may want to consider hiring a second forensic psychologist to complete a “work product review“. The role of this second “rebuttal” psychologist is to take a fine tooth comb to the initial psychologist’s report and “raw data” obtained in his or her file. The rebuttal witness’s goal is to highlight any deficits to the Judge and assist your attorney with strong ammunition for cross-examination at the hearing.

 The following guidelines are a small sample of things that a rebuttal psychological looks for to ensure a fair evaluation and report:

 • Qualification. Is the child custody evaluator qualified to be conducting the social investigation? Are they licensed in the discipline in which they are practicing? Are they trained in child welfare and development? A child custody evaluator must hold at least a masters in a mental health field as well as the highest license level in their state possible. Does the child custody evaluator have specialized knowledge and training in topics related to child custody work and keep up to date on research, child welfare, laws, and policies related to child custody evaluations? Child custody evaluators who have fewer than two years experience are encouraged to seek ongoing supervision prior to offering to perform or accepting to conduct an evaluation. 

 • Accuracy. Did the child custody evaluator strive to be accurate, objective, fair, and independent in their work? Did they utilize peer-reviews published research in their reports for reliability purposes? 

 • Assessment Instrument. Did the child custody evaluator use an assessment instrument and were they able to support the reason behind using the assessment? Is the instrument reliable and valid? 

 • Valid Collateral. Did the child custody evaluator provide valid collateral source information? Providing sufficient and reliable collateral source information is critical to a thorough evaluation. 

 • Reliability of Opinions. Were the opinions expressed by child custody evaluators based on information and data obtained through the application of reliable principals, and methods? The child custody evaluator must differentiate between information gathered, observations made, data collected, inferences made, and opinions formulated. Was empirically-based research utilized in reviewing their information and data? 

 • Disclosure. It is the child custody evaluator’s responsibility to disclose all collateral sources contacted. Evaluators must list all collateral informants who were contacted and all data sources that were utilized, whether or not the information obtained was utilized by the evaluators in formulating their opinions. 

 • Unbalanced Opinions. One of the major issues in child custody evaluations is wording that would cause one parent to seem unfavorable with no supportive evidence or data. Due to poor wording, a parent who potentially be seen as an un-fit parent. Is the child custody evaluator biased towards one or both parents? Is there a conflict of interest involved for the evaluator? 

If you believe that the results of your family’s child custody evaluation were negatively effected by an unqualified or biased evaluator, please have your attorney call Dr. Kristin Tolbert, Licensed Psychologist and founder of the Psychological Center for Expert Evaluations, Inc., for a complimentary consultation to discuss your options. Our clinicians receive the most up-to-date training on ethically performed parental timesharing evaluations and we are meticulous when searching for factors that could have an unfair impact on your case. Our office is located in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and we are easily reached throughout Palm Beach County. 

32 Responses to Your options after receiving a “bad” child custody evaluation: Advice from a forensic psychologist

    DARN…i wish i had ‘happened upon’ your site before a month or 3 ago.

    I lost eleven years of single parent FULL custody just over a month ago. Due to lies, unethical statements by the mediator/evaluator, and school district custodial interference.

    I am fighting for Court of Appeal, was thinking of getting my children possible evaluated but was not sure how to go about it–then I found your site. I am very discouraged even in sending this email BUT maybe you’ll want to talk. Maybe you have SOME kind of information you can provide; whether services, resources, local counselors, etc????

    –amber

    Krista

    Any information for Utah? I’m in the same boat as Amber (above commenter). Dad didn’t even want to be involved & I had to beg him to help out with out twins for 3+ yrs! Now he’s dating a girl that wants him to have custody and our evaluator is clearly biased.

    Kelly-Jeau G. Larson

    I had one done recently. Did not consider it any issue as I know who I am and what I do for a living. The results were full of incomplete information, deceit and total lies. I read my copy and was bewildered. Then CPS wants me to go to therapy, removed my career from my life! I can keep my day job, that is okay. Plus, CPS stuck me with the bill! My wife had similar results. I have to wonder who this doctor is. Sure, he works for the county, but he seems to either not listen, or is actually keeping his reviews negative to keep working for the county. I sent the results to my boss and long term friends (11 to 35 years of knowing me) they want to know who the psych exam is for, for it did read like me.

      Psychological Center

      You may want to consider having a work product review done, that way you can bring any method/bias/ethical concerns to the courts attention. If there is evidence that these issues were severe, the Court may decide to disregard the report, give it very little weight, or have a new evaluation altogether.

      I am available if you would like to discuss your options further. You can also contact the licensing authority in your state to see if there are any local psychologists who specialize in work product reviews and rebuttal witness testimony.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Dr. Kristin Tolbert

      drtolbert@forensicpsychologicalcenter.com
      561-429-2140

    Janet

    A court appointed psychologist wrote an evaluation that was full of negative comments about me. He never interviewed any of my contacts but interviewed all of my ex’s contacts. I also discovered a conflict of interest between the ex’s attorney and the psychologist. Both of them were connected on a professional business networking web site and had endorsed each other’s skill sets.

    I filed a motion to exclude his report because of the conflict of interest. The Court denied my motion without comment.

    I submitted a complaint to the State Board of Psychology on this psychologist. The Board accepted my complaint and is now investigating him. We filed a request for a continuance because the psychologist is being investigated. The Court denied my request even though his conduct of the investigation of my case is being investigated by the State Board of Psychology!

    Among the basic charge of violating the State Statute of conflict of interest I cited the fact that he did not interview any of my contacts but all of the ex’s. I had also filed a legal motion with the Court prior to any interviews with the Psychologist. In his report, he makes an opinion about my motion and he isn’t an attorney! The ex kept a diary. The diary is replete with ex’s lamentations about his alcoholism, struggling with depression and his abuse as a child. The psychologist ignored the diary! He was taking two different kinds of anti-depressants and told the psychologist this. Despite the well-known side effects of taking these drugs together; the psychologist opted to ignore this information as well.

    I could go on an on but the Board of Psychology took my complaint seriously. My worry is that I’ll lose custody because of this “expert” before the Board will discipline him.

    Thank you for your excellent article.

      Psychological Center

      I am so sorry to hear about your experience in the Family Court system. It occurs far more often than I would have ever imagined before coming into this specialized field. Please let me know if you would like to have a brief consult on your case. I am not sure if there is time to do anything to help, but if things are not yet decided, it may be worth it to have a discussion.

      Dr. Tolbert

      drtolbert@forensicpsychologicalcenter.com
      561-429-2140

    Kriss

    Hi, in my case when I got the report 4 months later I was confused as to some of the information that was in the report. Statements I never made about my family, some were partially true while others off the wall. The kicker though was a statement about an incident that actually occurred a little over 2 months after the evaluation! This made me look him up, he doesn’t even have a license in psychology-there is a pending listed, but has been for close to a yer now. Also, the battery of written tests-I had invoked my 5th amendment right on the paper and choose not to answer some of the questions. The second “author” who read the results stated once, maybe twice in the report that the results were inconclusive_creating invalid profiles- yet they still made diagnostic impressions and forensic conclusions that recommend termination and “a psychiatric assessment to include prescribed use of psychoactive agents” Now when I brought this to my attorney’s (public defender) attention she has refused to do anything about it. She just said to have another evaluation done. When I told her I wanted a work product review, she didn’t know what I was talking about and has refused to acknowledge that he isn’t licensed in the state to even conduct these evaluations. I don’t know what else to do, the report also recommended 18 months of individual counseling also.

    misty

    The whole psyc evaluation went agaisnt me and I need to speak to someone

    tiffany

    I had a 730 done at my expense which was proven that the evaluator did not follow the 5.220 laws including making recommendations with out interviewing anyone, it was discovered that the evaluator worked with my ex husbands wife. She was also caught lying on the stand, I then had a 733 done which was determined the first report was biased and didnt follow the state guidelines now the orgional evaluator wants to do a re-evaluation on what she should have done the 1st time for another $4000 which if I am forced to do so will bring this 730 costing me a total of almost $12,000 who can I file a complaint to and what can I do to not have to see this lady again. Due to her slander of witnesses she never interviewed they now refuse to speak with her

    My eval for custody case was soooo wrong and everything got turned on me!! I brought in documents of fahters abuse restraining orders etc. I have court coming up do not want to lose my child because of this what so ido

    D Caval

    My ex served 2+ years on probation for beating our handicapped daughter who is not-verbal, can’t walk, or do much of anything. She resides in a convalescent home for medically fragile children.

    After he beat her, he accepted an Alfred plea and served his sentence. Now he is suing for sole custody of our minor son and the court is going to give it to him because of the psychological evaluation that was full of lies. His mother-in-law is his free attorney. I’ve spent over $30,000 fighting for my son and I am out of money and will have to give up. He has spent ZERO.

    Bebe

    Okay I sympathize with you guys but listen to this I am a man and in 2010 I got hurt at work and I got disability because of my hands they still work and everything I just can’t do everything completely like I used to for work so me and my wife decided to change jobs I’m the stay-at-home dad fixing the dinners diapers everything else for over 6 years and a half. She decided to leave me took off to another state I had to go get an attorney to get my kids back filed for a divorce now we have an a evaluators wish I don’t like and I didn’t trust her she did her evaluation she just talked to my attorney and said that I would be a danger to my kids if I would continue being around them because I have brainwashed them. I don’t understand it but my lawyer said that she’s well respected and so they were probably pretty much listen to her, I feel like she’s been discriminating me targeting me and how I know that, my daughters told me they had recorded the evaluation and sure enough she had been just targeting on me through the whole evaluation and with my daughters .I didn’t find out my daughter’s recorded it until two days later then I heard the recording. I feel alone my wife is white everybody’s white ,judges evaluators lawyers I’m the only Brown Mexican talk about feeling alone and left out I just don’t understand I’ve been a very good husband and a super dad I still don’t understand why this happened to me. How can I get rid of this lying evaluators testimony. And I have to go to court next week and I don’t know what to do even with a lawyer, I don’t want to lose my children I’ve been the mother and father to them for over 6 years

    Recently we had a 730 report done. In the summary, dad has no fault, but mom has
    1 domestic violance (3 police reports provided)
    2 anger management issue. ( 2 witnesses)
    3 bad co-parenting ( mom blocks communication between father and daughter)
    4 alination. Mom and her family bad mouth father in front of child which upsets the child.

    Based on above, evaluator gave mother majority of custody that father doesn’t even have full summer and winter break. Mom has history of abusing court system and hired a retired judge as her attorney which skewed the fairness of this report. What can be done

    rjb

    Did a custody evaluation that took 9 months and cost $24,000. He basically ignored all my evidence (including very dramatic evidence of domestic violence, where my ex was beating the crap out of me while in a screaming frenzy driving on a freeway) and failed to call my top witnesses, such as the person who has known my ex since they were toddlers and considers her like a sister, but has decided she’s had enough of her toxic behavior. The evaluator ignored everything and declared me to have a personality disorder etc.

    By the end I was out of money and made a “hail mary” pass to represent myself in court, against my ex’s attorney. Full week trial. Top family law judge in San Francisco, who is known to be tough. Cross examined the evaluator myself.

    All I can say is, the judge is my hero. She saw through it and rejected the evaluation completely.

    Now the evaluator’s lawyer is reaching out and offering to meet me and (hopefully) refund my money.

    So it can be done. 🙂 Good luck to those of you who’ve been screwed by crooked evaluators.

      Nicole

      I am in desperate need of information on how you cross examined the evaluator and the judges decisions… I just got our evaluation report back. It was all biased and total bs. The evaluator showed so much proof of my ex being angry, his violence, and him admitting to hurting our daughter out of frustration. There’s so much more, but it’s too long to type. The evaluator had nothing to say about me negatively until it came to his decision. He states that I “coach” my daughter, and this is a lie! He says I should only get my daughter every other weekend. Even though he states in the report that my ex poses a threat because of how he acts out of frustration….. but I’m the bad parent?! I’m at a loss here. Please help

    Jen

    I received a poor parenting assessment.
    Mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t started for nearly a year, during which time my children, and I were allowed zero contact, of any sort.
    My older daughter presented with completely polarized, negative, opinions of me. Mostly because she is 17, and doesn’t like structure, or cleaning her room.
    My baby girl seems to have picked up some false memories, specifically, she says that I hit her (in some non specific way) causing bruises.
    I haven’t so much as swatted any of my children after the reached kindergarten.
    I have PTSD, and a TBI.
    The anxiety I experienced during the interviews had completely gone against me.
    My cognitive function is completely intact, but I have difficulty expressing myself, when tired, or stressed.
    I took advantage of not having my girls to attend an intensive trauma recovery program.
    This program is so intense that it is only done inpatient. (Dr C Ross’ Trauma Model Therapy)
    The evaluator’s report states that I was suicidal, and was admitted to become stable, and adjust medications.
    That is not true, the trauma program was just the next stage in my treatment plan, after having obtained a neuropsych evaluation to better address my recovery in a format I could fully benefit from.
    I am going to try to get theraputic supervision (for my little)
    and communication/ relationship counselling for myself, and my older girl.
    However, I am deeply worried about what could be triggering these false memories in my little one.
    I know my girls, and know our relationship will go back to normal with minimal psychiatric intervention.
    But I am terrified of getting locked into a custody order that does not allow for progress, and eventual normalization of our custody arrangement.

      Michelle Imburgia

      I lost custody of my son and been kept away for 5 years now. My now 13 year old son still caught in middle. This doctor was a friend of my husbands lawyer and my husband has intimate relations with his lawyer. I want this man in jail but I dont know if its possible he stole my last child from me and stole his chilhood. Its been like a legal kidnapping supported by all his friends in court. Help me figure out a way to end it so i can get unsupervised visits so the father will show his rage and this will be over. I hope. .

    Ridley Fitzgerald

    Thanks for the great tips for getting a good forensic evaluation. My brother is going through a divorce right now, so I’ll tell him about all of this. When he hires someone, hopefully he’ll make sure they are licensed and qualified, like you said.

    Mckensie

    Dr. Tolbert,
    I believe my case may apply to your Biased Opinions section. Per the direction of my attorney whom I hired in Feb 2016, she told me to have a private parenting evaluation done through a person of her choice. I hired this doctor and the evaluation started a few months later. Only two months into this evaluation, the evaluator was joining practices with my attorneys wife. The evaluation did not relay this information to me. In my mind, she should have told me immediately so I could get a different evaluator. My attorney finally relayed this information to me in a letter 10 months later. My attorney then removed herself from the case. Of course, my ex’s attorney made a very big deal of this conflict and I believe my evaluator became intimidated and told me multiple times she did not want to go to court. The evaluation lasted over one year and the evaluation charged me $18,000. The PE did not contact any of the collateral sources I provided nor addressed the financial abuse in my case. She said she surely would in the beginning. The PE wrote a report after many delays and the report was replete with inconsistences, errors and she did not change anything with custody. The only thing she did was pass the buck to a parenting coordinator. Please note that the court ordered evaluator gave me much more custody and ordered my ex to rehab for alchoholism. Does this seem like the PE was concerned about the conflict?

      Psychological Center

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Although I cannot specifically state my opinion without having all of the facts of your case, what I can state is that the situation you described above seems to warrant a closer look to determine whether or not the evaluator did in fact engage in any unethical practices that could have impacted the outcome of your case.

      According to the American Psychological Association’s (2016) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, psychologists have an ethical obligation to avoid “Multiple Relationships” and situations which can lead to “Conflicts of Interest”.

      APA’s Code of Ethics defines these core principles by stating the following:

      Principle 3.05 – Multiple Relationships

      (a) A multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is in a professional role with a person and (1) at the same time is in another role with the same person, (2) at the same time is in a relationship with a person closely associated with or related to the person with whom the psychologist has the professional relationship, or (3) promises to enter into another relationship in the future with the person or a person closely associated with or related to the person. A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists. Multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation or harm are not unethical.

      (b) If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist takes reasonable steps to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code.

      (c) When psychologists are required by law, institutional policy, or extraordinary circumstances to serve in more than one role in judicial or administrative proceedings, at the outset they clarify role expectations and the extent of confidentiality and thereafter as changes occur.

      Additionally, APA’s Code of Ethics goes on to state:

      Principle 3.06 – Conflict of Interest

      Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to (1) impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing their functions as psychologists or (2) expose the person or organization with whom the professional relationship exists to harm or exploitation.”

      If you feel that your evaluator may have violated these Codes of Ethics, it could be beneficial to get in contact with our practice, or with another qualified psychologist who may be able to assist in determining if there are substantial concerns with the methods, procedures and techniques employed by the evaluator who initially conducted your parenting evaluation. Please feel free to call us at 561-429-2140 or email me at drtolbert@forensicpsychologicalcenter.com.

        Mckensie

        Dr. Tolbert,
        This information is very useful. However can you assist me if I am in the state of NJ? How does your fee structure work if I were to seek retribution? How long do I have according to the statute of limitations to seek retribution?

        Thank you so much!
        Mckensie

          Psychological Center

          Good questions. Yes, I am regularly retained for out of state cases. If you give us a call at the office, my paralegal can take down your information and send you an updated retainer agreement, that way you can take a look at everything and think it over. I am not sure about the last part of your question pertaining to the statute of limitations and retribution. That sounds like a question for your attorney, whom I would be happy to speak with as well if that helps.

          561-429-2140

    Stacy

    I recently had a custody evaluation done & was shocked how short it seemed to be, only a month. She never made contact with 3 of the 4 people I had wrote down. Her visit at my home was maybe 30 minutes. She never observed my son & me interacting either. She based the whole report off of my son’s fathers contacts. We were never married & the time I lived with him he worked a job that had shift work hours plus he owns his own business, he was hardly ever home & when he was he hardly helped with our son, house work, or anything. My son & I moved a little over a year ago. My son his 3 years old & I have been his primary caregiver since he was born. This evaluator recommended my son go live with dad & I get to see him Tuesdays, Thursdays & everyother weekend. Something seems very wrong with all of this. Currently the temp order that was put in place last week is 2 days with me, 2 with him, 3 with me, 2 with him, 2 with me, 3 with him. My son has already started showing emotional upset with this. He told me out of the blue “I not want go home” after being at his dads. That tells me he is being told things that are upsetting him. I dont know what to do from here. My lawyer keeps saying it will cost a lot to fight anything & I should just try to work with him. I am terrified my son will pay emitionally from being ripped away from me, the one person who has always put him to bed, feed, bathed, dropped him off at daycare & picked him up daily. Is having someone review the report the best to go at this point? I live in Minnesota.

      Marie

      Was your custody evaluator Pam Quinn?

      Concerned Mother of Almost Adult Held Against Her Will

      I had a biased evaluator, as well. My daughter is 17-1/2. The evaluator was paid by the father, who has money. I am a 17 year homemaker, now working to support me and my daughter until the judge in my divorce refused to speak with her and find out WHY she refuses to see her father and sided with the evaluator. She was just taken by the father yesterday to NY. She is allowed no contact with me for 90 days until she completes a reunification program with her father. He was supposed to take her to Family Bridges in Philly; however, it was decided at the last minute that he would take her to Turning Point – a place for foster kids and troubled teens. I am shocked. I don’t know what to do. She was able to get away from her male cousin (who her father appointed to drive her from FL to NY – 24 hour drive – where will they stay? in a hotel together?!?!) and called her cousin here to come and get her. She was caught before the cousin could make the 2 hour trip to pick her up. My daughter called crying hysterically and told her cousin before she could get there that she had been caught and that her male cousin (another family) was taking her on to NY. She was whisked away and we have not heard from her since yesterday. She is allowed no contact with us. This judge has made a huge mistake!! My ex’s attorney sent a letter to the judge telling him that if he did not hurry up and make a decision the program would not accept her – influencing the judge. He typed up an order the next day which mimicked the evaluator’s report to a tee!!! Not only did he not talk to my daughter about what was going on, he didn’t review ANY of the evidence in this case. My daughter also confided in my sister that she doesn’t want to live with or see her father because she caught him doing inappropriate things to porn when she was about 10. I have no idea where to turn or what to do. It’s difficult to get a judge recused. This judge doesn’t have a great reputation for knowing the law or making good decisions. I called DCF and asked them to investigate her allegations about her father. In the meantime, my ex has violated the order, and my daughter is being held against her will, while no one has any clue where she is right now.

      Britt

      I had an similar thing happen to me in Minnesota is there anyway I can get ahold of you?

    Marie

    Was your custody evaluator Pam Quinn?

    Meadoe

    I live in Pennsylvania, our pre-trial conference is in two weeks. My estranged husband’s lawyer knows the psychologist who did the custody evaluation as well as the judge. I know he was paid off. I need your help and any information you can help me with. I have an attorney, I need the lies and retaliation to stop. My son has special needs and needs his mommy in his life, the ONLY parent who has been there since he was born.

      I am sorry to hear about your situation and if it’s not too late, I am happy to set up a consultation to discuss your case and see how I may be able to help. If you would like to reach me over the weekend, please send me an email at drktolbert@gmail.com. Or if you prefer to wait until Monday, you are welcome to call the office at 561-429-2140.

      Sincerely,

      Dr. Kristin Tolbert

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