Child Custody Evaluations I — Seattle Divorce Attorney

By Allen Glass

On June 26, 2011, the Seattle Times ran a front-page article detailing the simultaneous personal tragedy of the late forensic psychologist Dr. Stuart Greenberg and the systematic failure of the judicial system that propelled his career for over a decade.   Dr. Greenberg grew to become a pre-eminent forensic psychologist in King County.  The court appointed him to evaluate approximately 2,000 parenting evaluations.   The newspaper article detailed how the judicial system failed to recognize the taint that attached to Greenberg’s evaluations.  Three years after his death and the discovery of his misconduct, neither the courts nor the legislature have enacted any measures to redress the systematic failure.

The newspaper article detailed how parents embroiled in a parenting evaluation felt that they had to pay the Dr. Greenberg’s invoice, even if it was unreasonable, for fear that he would retaliate in the form of a negative opinion.   To remedy this concern prospectively, the court should order that the appointed parenting evaluator abide by a specific budget, including the amount of time expected to be expended on standard subroutines.  The order should provide that payment will be issued by the court clerk.  If an unforeseen circumstance arises that causes the evaluation to go over budget, then the evaluator should be required to apply to the court to make the request.

Parenting evaluations are authorized by statute. “The court may seek the advice of professional personnel whether or not they are employed on a regular basis by the court. The advice given shall be in writing and shall be made available by the court to counsel upon request.”  RCW 26.09.210.

However, there are few regulatory guidelines of either the substance or procedure for conducting a parenting evaluation.  RCW 26.09.220 provides only a broad a suggestive guide.  “In preparing the report concerning a child, the investigator may consult any person who may have information about the child and the potential parenting or custodian arrangements. Upon order of the court, the investigator may refer the child to professional personnel for diagnosis.”  There are professional guidelines, by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), but they are likewise broad and largely suggestive.

 Go To Part II

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