In late October we discussed the concept of the use of outside evaluators in the divorce process. Among the many kinds of professionals that may provide an opinion in a divorce involving children is a psychologist or other professional commonly referred to as a child custody evaluator. In some cases, a professional may be appointed by the court to provide an opinion to help the court in making decisions about custody, visitation and other issues regarding the children.
Under California rules, a child custody evaluator may be appointed to investigate and provide analysis of a variety of issues in child custody and visitation disputes. The court can limit the scope of the evaluation and order that the probe be a partial evaluation, investigation or assessment. These evaluations are handled with an eye to the best interests of the child, an important principle in family law.
A story from out east is making waves across the country regarding allegations of the findings of a psychologist who provided an opinion in a divorce. A man is suing the psychologist for defamation over the analysis that the psychologist presented in the divorce. The evaluation apparently was made under court appointment in a family court on the East Coast.
The family law case is not in the public record, but media accounts from the defamation case indicate that a man going through a contentious divorce and is suing the evaluator over the psychologist’s conclusion that the father is an unfit parent.
The basis of the finding, according to the defamation lawsuit, is that the father is alleged to have refused to bring his 5-year-old child to McDonald’s for dinner on a single night. The father says that he gave the child the choice of dinner anywhere but McDonald’s, or no dinner at all. The boy allegedly threw a tantrum, and the father stood firm in the belief that “his son had been eating too much junk food,” according to the Huffington Post.
The psychologist evaluating the child custody issues reportedly found that the ultimatum was evidence that called into question the man’s ability to care for the child. The defamation case is separate from the divorce proceeding. Because the family court issues are not a part of public record, it is not clear if the judge has considered the evaluator’s opinion.
Notably, even a court-appointed evaluator’s opinion generally is not binding on a family court judge.
Source: The Huffington Post, “Dad Branded Unfit Parent For Refusing To Take Son To McDonald's, Lawsuit Says,” Jennifer Peltz, Nov. 8, 2013