Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Keeping evaluations secret

I can understand divorcing parties wanting to keep court info off the internet, but I was just shocked to learn that some custody evaluators favor keeping info away from the parents!

Philip Michael Stahl is a leading authority on custody evaluations. He wrote the leading book on the subject, Conducting Child Custody Evaluations. His expert opinions were extensively quoted in the recent California supreme court LaMusga (move-away) case.

Stahl's book says:
I have found that there are several ways to respond to this issue that can ensure the confidentiality of all family members while at the same time helping the attorneys to do theirjob to their utmost and honoring the client's right to know. When local court rules permit, I believe that a copy of the evaluation should be sent to the court and to each attorney, but that the attorneys should be prohibited from giving a copy of the report to their clients. This will enable the attorneys to have the information they need to do their job, while providing a measure of confidentiality for their clients. I tell parents that they have not waived confidentiality with respect to each other, so I do not believe they should have access to the complete report. I am always willing to share the information with each individual client about herself, especially the psychological testing information as it applies to her. In this way, however, I maintain confidentiality the best I can, the court continues to hold the privilege, I have respected the confidentiality of the children and their needs, and yet I can provide each adult with the informa¬tion that the individual or the attorney needs to understand my observations and recommendations. In the jurisdictions in which I work, I have found that this is the most useful style.

In one particular situation, however, greater care must be taken than in my other. This is when one or both parents are acting as their own attorneys md thus would have the same right to access that a licensed attorney would beve in preparing for the case. In that situation, I either look to the court for direction (because sometimes the court is very clear about whether or not a report is to be open under such circumstances) or I explain the dilemma to The parents at the beginning. Sometimes parents will waive confidentiality with respect to each other and then both parents can have a copy of the report. My preferred practice is to be a bit more vague in my report in order to respect everyone's right to confidentiality. ...

As a therapist, I am generally not in favor of maintaining family secrets, but I certainly do not believe that reading information in a custody evaluation report is a healthy way for children to discover them. In fact, it is my experience that only damage can be done by having children inadvertently or otherwise read the reports that we provide to the court. Thus, in order to safeguard the children, prevent abuses in sharing information, and uphold the sanctity of the evaluation and the process, I strongly urge the parents do not get copies of the report.
This is crazy. He wants to take kids away from their parents and rip families apart, and deny them the right to read the accusations against them.

Stahl also advocates the use of Rorschach inkblot tests. So someone could get in a custody dispute, get one of the leading authorities as a court evaluator, and end up losing because of secret hokey inkblot readings.

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