Monday, May 6, 2013

Death of Richard Lawlor, JD, PhD - Indiana Parenting and Custody Evaluator

In the spirit of 'nothing is off limits' today I discuss the death of long-time custody evaluator Dr Richard Lawlor and more broadly, the concept and effectiveness, if any, of custody or parenting evaluators. Lawlor died on 13 January 2013 but I was a bit busy on another custody evaluation case which, coincidentally, involved a lying evaluator.

To read the obituary one might feel as though Lawlor was an upstanding and accomplished servant to the community. He received his J.D. (Magna Cum Laude) from Indiana University School of Law in 1979. “[H]is passion for teaching was evident with long-standing mentoring of medical residents (including an Arthur B. Richter Scholar), medical students, law students, and undergraduates. His writings were prolific in the field of Forensic Psychology and will help guide the next generation of practitioners. His administrative work included service in various positions such as the Board of Directors for the Indiana Psychological Association, and as Chairman of the Indiana Psychological Association. Richard received numerous academic and professional honors including the Sagamore of the Wabash.” Also listed were positions on various civic groups and the disconcerting statement “His work doing custody evaluations is nationally known.

In a contrasting tone Indiana Mothers for Custodial Justice in a posting dated 01 July 2010 opens with this statement about Lawlor:
The more I have dug into this father-loving Whore of the Court, the more I am sickened. During a case Dr. Richard Lawlor was involved in, which a child was taken from the mother and given to the father, he didn't even interview the primary people in the case. His bought-and-paid-for testimony was formed over looking at another therapist's notes. How nice!

About a year after that posting I was involved in a case helping a mother in which the father had been accused of molesting their young daughter. Although forensic investigators from CPS and the police department as well as the child's regular therapist had substantiated the molestation in came the hired-gun. I personally made no determination myself about the molestation but was coaching the mother during her effort to modify the current parenting time order to suit the best interest of their child based upon a third-party allegation of sexual abuse.

With his parenting time in jeopardy and potential criminal charges facing him the well-financed father did what any parent who wants to bring doubt to these types of allegations – bring in the hired-gun Richard Lawlor.

Depending on litigated outcomes people often express a preference or dislike for a particular judges, attorney or mental health professional such as Lawlor. So it is no surprise to see that some will praise him while others will absolutely malign him. These reporting individuals are not objective but biased based upon their personal circumstances. Complaints however should not be dismissed solely because the accusations are from biased parties. The may still support an objective view.

The problem with the hired-gun Lawlor and his ilk is that his “objective opinions” are not objective even when he was court appointed and the parties split the cost. While reviewing cases and observing Lawlor in court over the past ten years I was able to detect a pattern. Primarily, his opinion favoured whomever hired him, which could be expected but it is the contradictions that confirm this bias. In one case he would propose a theory that supported the position of his client but in another he would discredit the same theory when another MHP was using it against Lawlor's client.

Child custody evaluations are one of the most controversial areas of forensic psychology.[fn1] Some have argued that evaluations lack empirical methods, inappropriate use of psychological tests, and the improper use and interpretation of data. Further, that the evaluation reports are really of no use to the court. Authors of one study suggested a moratorium on child custody evaluations.[fn2]

As for the “independent evaluations” which were court ordered I observed another pattern develop in regards to Lawlor – Lawlor would find that the parent who was most likely to abuse or neglect the child should be awarded sole custody. This wouldn't make sense for someone not being motivated by a paying parent. But getting paid is exactly what Lawlor would anticipate. Not that he would directly get paid by one of the parties but that, instead, another MHP would be hired to perform a subsequent custody evaluation to challenge the absurdity of Lawlor's findings. Additionally, the abused or neglected child would be recommended for counseling sometime during the proceedings. What this does is ensures that MHP's workload stays full. Parents in a different custody case seeking a custody evaluator may come to Lawlor as others are found to be busy. Also using the supply and demand economic model Lawlor ensures that his outrageous fees stay inflated.

One study found that child custody evaluators made physical custody recommendations in 96% of reports. Therapy for parents was recommended in 63% while therapy for children was 40%. Yet mediation, a tactic that reduces conflict and brings resolution to the case, was only recommended in 15% of cases. It appears that evaluators are nearly universally sure as to physical placement of the child(ren) and that, on average, at least one person per case would receive psychological therapy. Parents working together to resolve problems was rarely recommended though.

This is the hidden motivation for which judicial officers and practitioners need to be aware if the best interest of children are to be served. Child custody evaluators' recommendations, if followed, will feed the MHP industry.

1] James N. Bow and Francella A. Quinnell “A Critical Review of Child Custody Evaluation Reports”
2] O’Donohue & Bradley (1999)

If you would like to ensure more positive outcomes for your client when a custody evaluation has been requested or ordered by the court then please visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. There is no charge for initial attorney consultations.

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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.


Amy said...

For such an "upstanding" evaluator, he misplaced the MMPI II Scantrons and could not locate them during the trial phase advising me, "he must have misplaced them." Imagine that for a Pro-Se litigant! Dr. Lawlor's hand in the cookie jar only scratches the surface for the corruption/custody litigation which takes place in Marion County.

Unknown said...

Dr. Lawlor..A man that did mine and my ex's evaluation.A split cost ordered from the court first blindly read our DRCB evaluation test of the MMPI. I was to keep sole custody of our daughter then almost 2 years old. In 4/23/12 we were by court order to go personally amd see Dr.Lawlor.He was to perform our 2nd custody evaluation on our daughter now 5 1/2 years old. And he didn't care anything more than getting paid. We were to split the cost and what do u know my ex paid him off.. I had paid 1000.00 up front. I have a 68page evaluation from Lawlor himself.. since my ex paid him the entire amount of The rest 4000.00. DR. LAWOR RULED IN MY EXS FAVOR. Giving him sole custody. I had sole custody from birth until she was 6. After we went to court and of course there was still is a paid psychiatrist involved.. and I got visitationevery other weekend TO DATE IT HAS BEEN NOW 3 YEARS SHE HAS BEEN KEPT FROM ME I AM A MOTHER OF 4..SHE IS MY OLDEST... DR LAWLOR OUT HER IN THE HANDS OF NOT IN HE BEST INTEREST OF OUR CHILD.I went to court almost 2 years ago in MARION COUNTY to be found in contempt for not paying supportand he was in contempt for not interference with visitation.In fact her father has a substantiated CPS report of child molestation under his roof while the my ex and his girl was at home in their bedroom and I wasn't even notified. The man went to jail. And my ex and his now wife have 5 girls and 1 boy only our daughter amd he has 2 daughters by his first wife and just conceived a child 1 year ago with his wife now.and CPS Did not even contact me on this matter another failure if the system... I on the other hand have no criminal background no cps background no drug alcohol background no violent background. Just a loving mother of 4 children who wants to have a relationship with her first born daughter and can't because the court system doesn't care who they hurt. My mom has now been in court fighting to see her as her father has kept her from my mother our daughters maternal grandmother.. she hasnt got very far either. Today my daughter is going in 10. I have watched her younger brother go into depression as she was his only world at 16 months apart has not seen her either and her 2 younger sisters are 3 & 2 and i watch them play and play with them thinking wow they have no clue they have a beautiful big sissy out there still to meet and how their big sister would love to meet them and you know I find myself photo cropping not cropping out something but quite the opposite.. to crop my oldest with my other 3 children. All I wanted for mothers day was a whole pix not cut and pasted of my children....and it hurts to watch my son grieve over her...maybe someone somewhere can make this right. If not for me but for all the siblings this effects... I've got such a twisted more to this story with all the proof needed. The courts don't care... the right person to take all of it in to save just even one child....makes a difference