Family law judges in Alabama and around the country sometimes call on psychologists to help them make decisions in difficult child custody cases. This is particularly common when divorcing parents involved in a bitter custody dispute both allege that the other is an unfit caregiver. Psychologists provide judges with their opinions in writing after conducting lengthy interviews with the children and parents involved, and they may be asked to appear in court to explain their recommendations.
Interviewing parents and children
Psychologists called in to help resolve child custody disputes take a delicate approach when interviewing children. Instead of asking the child which parent they would prefer to live with, they may encourage them to talk about things that they enjoy doing and how they expect to take part in these activities once the custody issue is resolved. During interviews with parents, psychologists look for warning signs such as anger, resentment and selfishness.
When they interview children, psychologists may ask questions designed to reveal signs of parental alienation. This is a situation where a parent involved in a child custody dispute uses manipulation to drive a wedge between the child and the other parent. Signs of parental alienation include telling lies about a parent, sharing their secrets, comparing them unfavorably to a new partner and behaving in an overly controlling manner.
Using psychologists to break a custody deadlock
Experienced family law attorneys may also call on psychologists when divorcing parents are unable to negotiate productively and a child custody court battle is looming. If parents are reluctant to speak with a psychologist, attorneys could remind them that leaving these matters up to a judge will involve airing their differences in public and likely lead to an outcome that at least one of them will be unhappy about.