Social Investigation (Child Custody Examination)

If parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the court may order or request the parties to obtain a social investigation conducted by a qualified mental health professional. A social investigation is a comprehensive study of all pertinent details relating to the child(ren) and each parent with the primary goal being to recommend a time-sharing plan that is in the best interests of the child(ren). The person conducting the social investigation will furnish the court and all parties of record in the proceeding a written report containing recommendations concerning timesharing, decision-making, residence, or other family law matters, as ordered by the court.

The report will include a written statement of the facts on which the recommendations are based. The social investigator will prepare a recommended parenting plan that addresses the parents’ decision making authority and contains specific time-sharing schedules for the court’s consideration.

The doctors at Shanlis have extensive training and experience as well as time in court testifying in this area of family law.

Parental Capacity

Parental Capacity Evaluations are a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of a parent’s strengths and weaknesses. It combines specific and extensive interviewing, psychological testing, records review, and other data as necessary into a concise and complete evaluation.

Parental capacity is the ability to be what is termed “a good enough parent” on a long-term basis. Hence, it is different from parenting ability, where he or she may be able to parent for a short period of time in specific circumstances but not have the capacity to parent effectively long term.

Family law courts and child protection agencies routinely use Parental Capacity Evaluations to make informed decisions about safe and responsible childcare. Childcare cases often become very complex and involve what are termed “invasive risk elements,” such as cognitive limitations, mental illness, and addictions, and require a unique approach to the assessment. Based on the Parental Capacity Evaluations, the court can make recommendations for visitation, treatment, and placement. In most cases, the judge orders the assessment after deciding what information he or she needs about the parents.

In many cases, child welfare agencies recommend that parents to be assessed for parental capacity. The court requests an objective assessment of the needs of the children and each parent’s ability to meet those needs. Instructions are given to the assessor concerning the matters at issue in custody, access or both.

At different points of time, parental capacity varies depending on the circumstances facing parents and their children. Competent parenting demands adaptability to the changing circumstances of the child. The assessment describes patterns of parent’s functioning in adult and child rearing roles. An effort is made to explain the reasons for the problematic behavior leading to the child protection concerns. The assessment also identifies the functioning of child, his or her needs and risks in relation to the parent’s deficits. An important goal is to provide directions for intervention to meet the best interests of children.

The recommendation of a family law forensic psychology expert is not determinative. That is, the expert provides information to the Court whereby the trier of fact (the Judge) weighs the expert’s report with other evidence. The “Best Interests of the Child” remains the primary concern of the forensic psychologist regardless of the specific role they play, or the specific interests of the adult parties. The goal is to come up with the plan/recommendations for the care of children involved.