Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How Important are Psychological Evaluations?

Click to hear audio program:
"On this episode of “Ask Henry” with family law attorney Henry Gornbein, a listener phones in a question regarding psychological evaluations.  Henry answers the listener’s question and goes on to provide a better understanding of what psychological evaluations are and how they work during a divorce from the legal perspective." ~From Divorce Source Radio
I'm guilty. I've crawled inside narcissists's heads. Not foolishly. Never without adequate research studies and enough anecdotal testimonies to avoid getting lost. I leave a breadcrumb trail when investigating narcissistic territories because the terrain is soooooo disorienting. Pretty soon, you don't know where you start and the narcissist begins. Be sure to leave a breadcrumb trail in order to find your way back to yourself. When it comes to the narcissistic brain, all roads lead back to narcissist. If you still get lost even with a breadcrumb trail, don't waste time searching for a moral compass. Narcissists don't have one.

All kidding aside (this picture is too weird not to add a comment) just in case you feel guilty about   diagnosing without a license, remember this: narcissists figured out how your brain ticked long before you figured out what made narcissists tick.

Now What?

Let's say you've done your homework and you know beyond question that your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is on the pathological end of the narcissistic continuum. You've read through the criteria for a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and you've decided to end the relationship because you've given up hope that your partner will change. You are in the process of mediating custody. You are educated about the invalidating impact narcissists have on their children. You have learned that children are objectified by narcissistic parents---serving as narcissistic supply sources. This hurts your heart because you love your children. You believe it is your moral responsibility to protect them.

Since your unprofessional diagnosis lacks credibility in court, you hope a Psychological Evaluation will prove your ex is mentally disordered and therefore: unfit for parenting. You assume that in a court of law, your concerns will be vindicated; your time in the pathology library will be rewarded. You believe a psychological diagnosis will protect your children by denying custody to the pathological parent. Court is about justice and doing the right thing for the children, right? 

Not So Fast! I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. 

Recently, several court cases reveal that personality disorders have little-to-no bearing in child custody decisions. I've heard heart-breaking stories about parents diagnosed with at least two personality disorders. They were granted unsupervised visitation and in one case, full custody. In the eyes of the courts, a personality disorder does not prohibit parents from providing adequate care for their children. Adequate care does not include subjective measurements of their empathetic bonding, quality parenting, unconditional love, and conscientious and moral guidance. In my experience, the courts are interested in basic care questions such as the following:

Does the child have food to eat?
Does the child have a bed, a roof, a pair of shoes?
Does the child go to school?

What the courts consider "good enough parenting" is similar to Rosanne Barr-Arnold's joke: "It's five o'clock and the kids are still alive. My job for the day is done." If your narcissistic-psychopathic-soon-to-be-ex provides for your children's basic needs and is not afflicted with a mental illness that may endanger your child, relying on a psychological evaluation to determine custody is an expensive exercise in futility. Attorneys get rich, psychologists buy new furniture, and all you have to show for your attempt to protect your children (be a GOOD parent) is an empty bank account. Make too many claims about your borderline soon-to-be-ex and you may even 'lose' custody as an alienating ex-spouse.

Please remember that personality disorders are NOT mental illnesses interfering with parental functioning. Examples of mental illnesses that may have bearing in court would be Axis I disorders, such as: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, severe addictions, etc. Any mental illness preventing a parent from meeting children's basic needs. Do they have food to eat? A roof over their heads? Shoes? Does their parent make sure they go to school? If a parent's mental illness puts the child at risk, then a psychological evaluation may be of value in determining the child's safety. As I said, we are talking about a child's elemental needs being met--not a judgment call on the narcissist's parenting skills or lack thereof. 

(If you are new to Pathology Studies 101, you can read about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Axis I and Axis II mental illnesses HERE. )

Did you have a psychological evaluation? Did your ex? What's your opinion on the usefulness of psychological evaluations in determining child custody? If you feel inclined to write about your situation, you can post a message on this blog OR you can post on in our Grand Hall on the WoN Forum. Every message counts. Your experience matters.

"Inquiries need to steer away from personality descriptors such as narcissistic style, histrionic traits or obsessive-compulsive features. In fact, these aspects of functioning frequently are associated with mental health and not psychopathology. These terms tend to be misleading and con-fusing to judges, attorneys and non-mental health professionals due to the pejorative nature of these attributions."by Steven Shapse, "Child Custody Evaluations and Psychological Testing–Valid and Invalid Expectations"

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