Crossroads in Court: Two Professions Set out to Help Children in Family Crisis. How Does Cross Examination Allow Either Profession to Succeed?

AFCC NY Newsletter: Family News and Views (Vol. 1, Issue 1)

(Based on a presentation by the AFCC and AAML on Nov 20, 2015 on parents with personality, mental health or substance abuse disorders in custody cases)

More than 10% of American children live with a parent who has alcohol problems. Illicit drug use is increasing in the US, especially among Baby Boomers. Moreover, only approximately 8% of adults with a substance abuse issue receive treatment at a specialized facility.

The courts deal with thousands of custody, visitation and neglect cases every day. Judges need help distinguishing cases involving parental mental illness, substance abuse and alcohol abuse, from those where a party makes such allegations for tactical advantage. Mental health professionals (MHPs) play a key role in separating fact from fiction. Lawyers use cross examination to test if the MHP based the evaluation on valid empirically grounded evidence or was, in effect, reaching conclusions based on personal opinion. The court will also want to know if the MHP relied on published, peer reviewed research to support his or her conclusions to confirm that the evaluation is based on accepted scientific principles.

The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry among other professional organizations, have issued standards and guidelines to assist MHPs in conducting custody and related evaluations. Some of these standards are binding on MHPs and a violation can result in professional discipline, while others are aspirational. Even the latter, however, provide helpful guidance to the MHP and the court.

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“Crossroads in Court: Two professions set out to help children in family crisis. How does cross examination allow either profession to succeed?” by Norman S. Heller was published in the Spring 2016 AFCC NY Newsletter: Family News and Views (Vol. 1, Issue 1). Reprinted with permission.