In rare cases involving complex custody disputes, outside assistance may be required for a final judgement.
Sometimes contested custody cases get very complicated. In complex custody cases, the family law judge has discretion to appoint various forensic experts that can better assist the judge in making a custody, timesharing or other family law decision. A judge can only make a decision about custody of a minor child based on the evidence that is presented to the judge during a hearing. What you as a parent can testify to will be limited by the rules of evidence. For example, you cannot testify about your opinion of the other parent. You can only testify to specific facts that you witnessed. The only individuals who can testify to opinion evidence are experts in the specific field they practice. For example, family law judges often appoint psychologists or mental health professionals who specialize in certain fields, medical doctors, accountants or other individuals who have the specific education and experience required to offer an opinion. The forensic experts perform evaluations on the parties and/or the children and issue reports to the family law attorneys. The forensic experts could ultimately issue a report and evaluation to the court regarding the specific issue the judge is needing help understanding. Unfortunately, I’ve had a few cases where the judge wanted a psychosexual evaluation performed on one of the parents. A psychosexual evaluation is usually requested in a custody or timesharing case when one party is accused of sexually inappropriate conduct on a minor child or other individual.
A psychosexual evaluation will, in general, be able to tell the court whether a parent is at risk of engaging in future sexual misconduct. The court can take this information and determine if the parent should have supervised visitation or timesharing, or in extreme cases, no visitation or timesharing at all. These psychosexual evaluations can be quite invasive. Often they include a polygraph test. Some psychologists may even require a sexual arousal assessment, which is incredibly invasive. Numerous other tests are conducted by the qualified mental health professional and that professional will render a report regarding the parent’s risk of engaging in further devious behavior.
A recent case out of the Fifth District Court of Appeal dealt with the criteria a judge must examine before ordering such an invasive evaluation. In Jordan v. Jordan, the family law appeals court found that a trial judge must determine that 1) good cause exists for an order directing a parent to submit to a psychosexual evaluation and that 2) a specific finding from the family law court that a parent’s mental health condition was in controversy. In Jordan, the family law trial court failed to make such findings and reversed the trial court’s order for a psychosexual evaluation.
The family law appeals court also found that the judge’s order must be specific when ordering a psychosexual evaluation. The order must specify the manner, condition and scope of the examination. It is worth noting that this type of evaluation will not conclusively determine if a parent actually sexually abused a child. Sadly, I have had clients meet with me that believe they have been falsely accused of abusing their child by the other parent. Often, they are falsely accused by the other parent in order to gain an immediate advantage in a custody case. A psychosexual evaluation will not conclusively tell the judge whether you did or did not commit the alleged abuse. On the other hand, it will give the judge valuable information about whether you pose any risk to your children in the future. Which will ultimately aid the family law judge in making a decision regarding custody and timesharing of your child.
If you have any questions regarding family law or require legal assistance in other areas of Family Law you may always contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected].