For the past 13 years, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the premier interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to the resolution of family conflict, has held an annual symposium on the topic of child custody. During the symposium, family lawyers, psychiatrists, researchers, judges, professors, and other professionals from across the world discuss, debate, and deliver presentations on topics related to child custody issues. The AFCC Symposium is an excellent opportunity for those who mediate and resolve inter-family disputes for a living to keep apprised of the latest developments in family-related fields, including law, psychology, and academics.
This year, our own Evan Schein, partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP, was asked to present at the symposium. Along with forensic psychologist Dr. Alberto Yohananoff and fellow family attorney Martin Friedlander, Evan spoke on a topic that he deals with frequently in his law practice, and one that is of paramount importance in litigated child custody disputes: forensic evaluations.
Oftentimes in a divorce, parents who cannot agree on custody matters and ask a court to resolve their dispute must participate in what is known as a forensic evaluation. Conducted by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in family and parenting matters, a forensic evaluation involves an in-depth study of the abilities, strengths, and weaknesses of both parents, as well as the progress and state of the child or children. It is no exaggeration to say that in some cases, forensic evaluations will weigh very heavily on any eventual determinations of custody. While they can be challenged in a trial, many judges inherently trust and respect the forensic evaluator appointed to the matter, and will carefully consider their advice and recommendations.
Evan and his colleagues presented to the AFCC a workshop on one specific and somewhat under-studied aspect of forensic evaluations: so-called “collaterals.” A “collateral” is lawyer-speak for a third party who is interviewed during a forensic evaluation, and who is able to influence the evaluation’s outcome through the testimony they present to the evaluator. Common collaterals include grandparents, babysitters, and romantic partners of parents. Evan spoke to the AFCC on how best to manage and utilize collaterals during forensic evaluations, including how a litigator might choose which collaterals he wishes to put forward to be interviewed, and how those collateral sources can be prepared. Dr. Yohananoff expanded on how forensic evaluators are incorporating the information they receive from collaterals into their evaluations, and how clinical professionals can best ensure that such information is both reliable and useful to any eventual custody determinations.
For those of you visiting our blog who are currently, or may be soon, in the midst of a child custody dispute, Evan is available for consultations. Contact our firm, and we would be happy to set up an appointment.