Friday, February 22, 2013

Follow the money to harming children - Assault on Judicial Integrity by Child Custody Evaluators - Part VIII

Anyone who has ever been intimately involved in the divorce industry is aware of the overwhelming influence of child endangerment profiteers. The coffers of available funding “for the protection” of children is nearly as flush as the hordes of profiteers seeking to pillage that bounty at the expense of child well-being.

Those who can profit from harm to children are as diverse as the children themselves. There are advocates, conciliators, mediators and arbitrators directly involved in the trial process. Advocates include attorneys who get paid by the hour and fill the till by perpetuating litigation. Guardian ad Litems also fall into this category although their interest is to be representing the child. Parenting time coordinators may act as; conciliators by simply coordinating arrangements between parents consistent with the court's order; mediators by helping the parents reach agreement of implementing parenting time mandates; or, arbitrators by making decisions for the parents related to parenting time disputes. All of these positions can be engorged through ongoing conflict. Thus, there exist a financial incentive for these actors to perpetuate conflict and, presumably, harm to the children.

The American Bar Association has observed that research now documents the potentially devastating consequences for children when they are treated as pawns in a bitter custody dispute, including an increased likelihood of clinical depression, delinquency, truancy, and teenage pregnancy. Most researchers -- especially those who study the effects of divorce on children -- believe passionately that using the court to resolve custody issues is a mistake in all but a few cases.[fn1] It is far better, in the opinion of these researchers, for parents to negotiate their own parenting agreements, with the help of outside experts such as mediators, counselors, and lawyers on an as-needed basis. Leading judges from across the state have consistently told me that they would rather have the parents formulate their own parenting time and custody agreement, with the encouragement of a mediator if needed.

When increasing the likelihood for children to experience clinical depression, delinquency, truancy, and teenage pregnancy a much broader range of disciplines may also profit. Of immediacy are the mental health professionals [MHP] which includes counselors, therapist, clinical diagnosticians, observers and experimenters, psychologists, and psychiatrists. From the law enforcement community are police which includes street patrols and detectives. Then there are the corrections beneficiaries who are the correctional officers, probation officers, administrators, various levels of MHP's, and again, as in the original custody case, the various participants in litigation. The medical community, which is so often integrated with the psychological practitioners, has numerous beneficiaries when children suffer harm. This includes the pharmacological industry which has thrived in correlation to the increase in divorce and the infusion of influence by MHPs into our legislative and judicial fields. One of the manners in which the custody evaluation field has managed to bolster its profits is through the use of metrics lacking any objectively measurable scientific conclusions. What constitutes fitness as a parent? Ask 10 friends or random associates to identify the 10 most important aspects of parenting. You are likely to accumulate at least 40 different responses.

When a judicial officer does the same of the various MHPs involved in a contested custody case the results are similar. Yet, MHPs tend to hold much greater weight in the courtroom than you, your friends or your random co-workers who may not be parents themselves. A 1991 New York Court of Appeals decision in a custody modification case reveals this conundrum. The Court wrote:
This vigorously contested custody dispute was the subject of 13 days of trial testimony which included detailed and extensive testimony from several mental health professionals consulted by the parties both prior to and after the commencement of the instant action, as well as from a psychiatrist who conducted the court-ordered forensic evaluation of the parties and their child. Although the court-appointed psychiatrist found the wife to be the most "critically attuned parent to the needs" of the child, the expert testimony also revealed that she suffered from a personality disorder characterized by paranoid features. While we are mindful that the Supreme Court also expressed concern over the husband's lack of "hands on" parenting experience, when this deficiency is balanced against the evidence concerning the wife's psychological disorder, and her pattern of distorting the truth, it cannot be gainsaid that the Supreme Court's decision [to grant sole custody to the father] is supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record. (Nir v. Nir, 1991).
What took place here is a group of MHPs reaching different conclusion about the same people, in the same circumstances, in the same case. Yet through their “objective” lenses they achieved different results. This is because psychological evaluations – and thus custody evaluations based upon these – are not scientific. Their conclusions cannot be replicated nor dis-proven and are therefore not scientific but are the prognostications of a mystic, astrologer or card reader. Interestingly the MHPs can be legally paid for their guesswork but similar prognosticators operating out of street side bazaars are legally restricted to operating for “entertainment purposes only.”

The divergence in opinion of child custody evaluators is due to the prominence of bias and the lack of scientifically accurate instruments of measuring parental fitness and outcomes. These bias are not directly a result of who paid for the evaluation, although that rates highly, but may be due to gender, environmental, cultural of social factors. These MHPs have long been well aware of the fact that their field lacks validity, objectivity and consensus.

Underwager and Wakefield addressed this lack of validity by evaluators using accumulated clinical experience and interview processes. “Although the law recognizes experience as a basis for an opinion, any person, purporting to be a scientist, who advances an opinion based on experience alone has abandoned scientific knowledge. It is unethical for a psychologist to state an opinion based on experience alone (Dawes, 1989). The law also places heavy emphasis on personal interviews. The scientific psychologist knows that one of the most solidly established facts in psychology is that statistical, actuarial approaches based on valid and reliable measurements are superior to clinical interviews alone (Dawes, Faust, & Meehl, 1989; Einhorn & Hogarth, 1986; Gambrill, 1990; Garb, 1989; Kleinmuntz, 1990). This is hard for many mental health professionals to accept since it seems to each of us that our own brilliant insights should be better than what a $3.95 calculator can produce. Unfortunately, the data are contrary to that perception.”[fn2]

With regard to the neutrality of the evaluator, the custody guidelines for the American Psychological Association state, "The psychologist should be impartial regardless of whether he or she is retained by the court or by a party to the proceedings." Clearly in the Moore v Moore case as I have demonstrated through the evidence Child Advocates, Inc., although enjoined to the case by the court has shown extreme bias in this case.

Child Advocates, Inc., was appointed by the court which could give one reason to believe, on its face, that their representations will be unbiased, objective and flavoured by neutrality. But that is not their mission. The MHPs operate on a for profit basis and just like any other business profits are derived through margin – the difference between what a customer pays and the cost of the goods or services provided. An efficient way to grow profits is to increase sales which keeping fixed costs – advertising, rents, subscriptions, continuing education – constant or increasing at a rate less than sales. This is what MHPs do collectively. Think of them not as competitors but as rivals.

Around me Indiana University and Purdue University carry on an athletic rivalry while maintaining a joint campus in Indianapolis. The essence of a rivalry is the closeness of competition and the lack of clear supremacy between the two opponents. If either Indiana or Purdue were to win their annual match 10 years in a row in which the scores were completely humiliating to the defeated team the rivalry would cease to exist in the mind of fans. Attendance, gate receipts, concessions, souvenir sales and philanthropic bequests to the representative institutions would surely decrease.

The MHPs operate in a similar way. By not providing clear and objective criteria and analysis in which outcomes are easily predictable the MHPs keep the participants guessing and seeking a “rematch” when undesired results are propounded upon the court.

But what about the altruistic child custody evaluators who, in their hearts, hold the best interest of the children as sacred and are not willing to compromise that position for profit? Fresh out of graduate school and entering the evaluation field this foray promises life fulfillment and financial security. This promising young evaluator goes through a year of assessing parents and the child custody battle scenarios presented and then provides an objective analysis to the court. In his second year this fledgling evaluator is still brimming with personal satisfaction and visions of a bright future. He has attained what he considers to be a perfect record, finding for the party who hired him in half of the case and against in half of the cases, which appears to reflect his absolute neutrality. While outstanding in the game from which it is derived, batting .500 in the legal realm is not satisfactory to the lawyers representing the person hiring the evaluator.

With this “poor record” becoming well-known throughout family law attorney circles he soon finds himself on the opposite end of the demand spectrum such as the hired guns like Richard Lawlor. Lawlor participated in child custody evaluations for many years. He would base his findings on his financial interests regardless of the impact on the well-being of children.

This is the scheme of the child custody evaluators and other MHP's summoned to provide their intuitions and guesswork to the courts in the name of science. They do so for their personal financial gain. Whether they are funded by the litigating parties, the juvenile justice system, court fees or through private contributions – such as those that support Child Advocates Inc. – their interest are not guided by the child's best interest but by perpetuating the conflict and their involvement. Increasing sales is the name of their game.

Those financial sponsors of Child Advocates Inc. have a common link – they prosper when litigation continues and children suffer. In the upcoming segments I will present background information on each and will include their complete and unedited response, if any, to requests for comment.

[1] A Judge’s Guide: Making Child-Centered Decisions In Custody Cases, Second Edition, 2008. ABA Center On Children And The Law.
[2] Psychological Evaluations You Need for Trial: What They Can and Cannot Do, Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield

If you need assistance in refuting an Indiana child custody evaluator then please visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me.

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More information about child custody rights and procedures may be found on the Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates website.

©2008, 2013 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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