What to Know About Parenting Plan Evaluations
In the state of Florida parenting plans are requested by lawyers and investigators are appointed by the court, FL Statute 61.20. As such the investigator(s) who is appointed works for the court in the best interest of the child. The investigator communicates to lawyers representing both sides of the divorce case to obtain information relevant to the investigation. In addition, the investigator may require additional background information, not necessarily provided by each lawyer, including vocational, educational, even criminal and arrests records. The investigation is comprehensive, including clinical interviews with each parent, all children, all combinations of children and parents, home visits, collateral interviews with important people in the life of the child, and specific investigation of such issues as child or domestic abuse and/or substance abused if these are alleged.
Psychological testing may be required if mental health issues and/or cognitive issues such as intellectual development or achievement, learning disability, or attention deficit disorders are raised. The investigator should never assume mental health issues. Only the psychologist is permitted to interpret the results of psychological testing. It is the responsibility of the psychologist to choose what test(s) should be administered, and it is the responsibility of the lawyer to assure that there is no unnecessary testing. You as a lawyer have the right to know the purpose for each and every test administered to your client.
Red flags, or troubling findings in testing results include major mental health issues, e.g. Mood swings, hallucinations and delusions, suicidal ideations, substance abuse, tendency towards impulsive behavior and violence, or sociopathic behavior. These types of findings should be addressed thoroughly in the comprehensive report to the court and linked to parenting issues. Red flags in the interview process include: parental alienation, arguments about appropriate collateral interview sources, and staged or rehearsed responses. These must also be thoroughly addressed in the investigator’s report and related to parenting issues.
Each lawyer in the case should insist on obtaining a comprehensive parenting plan report addressing all aspects of FL Statute 61.13(3). Considerations for the court must be addressed in the context of all parties functional behavior and not clinical diagnoses. That is the investigator must describe the problem behavior that each parent has in addressing the needs of their children. Also, if the children have issues, these must be described in behavioral terms rather than clinical diagnoses. i.e. acting aggressively at school, failing grades, nightmares, etc. Similarly, all testing results must address parental functioning and not just a general description of the parents’ mental health. Test results for children must be related to specific recommendations for either therapeutic intervention, remediation, or primary prevention of future problems.