Custody battles are highly fact-specific and may require lots of evidence, regardless of whether the case is attached to a divorce or a stand-alone action. Every case involves a different family and different children, so every case requires different types of testimony and evidence. Expert witnesses can provide an important source of support for some custody cases. There are many different types of experts that may be used.
Mental health experts for the child, such as counselors or psychologists, can help bolster a child custody case. Testimony from this type of expert typically takes the form of how the child relates to each parent, the bond he or she shares, and how the child will react to being placed in the custody of one parent or the other. Moreover, if there are allegations of parental alienation or emotional abuse, the counselor may be able to provide insight on the issue. Keep in mind that not all children will be of sufficient age or maturity to effectively communicate their concerns or issues to a counselor, so the effectiveness of this type of expert needs to be carefully considered before deciding to use the expert at trial.
Mental health experts for the parents can also be an important source of testimony. Where there are allegations of parental unfitness due to emotional abuse, neglect, or substance abuse, these mental health experts are trained to help identify the issues and risk factors. A party may request that the court require the parties to submit to a psychological assessment, which may then be used at trial. Note, however, that court will not always consent to make such an order, and the parties will be responsible for paying the fees associated with the assessment.
In some cases, the trial court may appoint a child custody evaluator to perform a parenting evaluation. Under Washington law, this person would be a psychologist who will perform many investigative tasks, including interviewing the parties and the child. The evaluator will also take many issues into account, such as the age of the child, the bond between the child and the parents, parent’s employment schedules, and so on. After performing this evaluation, the psychologist may submit a report of his or her recommendations to the court. Either party may call the evaluator as a witness at trial.
The decision to use an expert witness should be weighed carefully together with an attorney experienced in the field. Our team has extensive experience in building successful custody cases with expert witnesses. Contact us today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your case and your options.