Custody Evaluation in High-conflict Situations Focused on Domestic Violence and Parental Alienation Syndrome

Since the adoption of an expert consultation system in making custody decisions in Korea in 2017, there has been a growing demand for the involvement of mental health professionals [1]. Custody evaluation is basically applied in many standard issues such as parent-child relationships, merits and demerits of each parent, the child’s developmental needs and attachment, and in domestic violence issues including intimate partner violence (IPV) and child abuse, according to the specific details of the case [25]. In particular, parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a condition in which one parent brainwashes the child, who then denounces and rejects the other parent for no apparent reason, is often an issue in a high-conflict divorced family. Custody evaluation cases where referral to a specialist service is required are often in need of specialist appraisals and opinions regarding these additional issues. The evaluator should assess the impact of abuse or violence on the victim or the child and report the information obtained during the investigation and expert recommendations to the court [24].

Familial dynamics surrounding the divorce process, particularly when domestic violence is involved, trigger complex psychological motions in the minds of the offender, the victim, and the child. An interpretation that does not take into account the context of domestic violence and the psychology of the victim is an unethical appraisal for its tendency to overlook the child’s best interests, and puts the child at risk [2,3,5]. However, it is not uncommon that a child custody evaluator is not properly trained in the detailed dynamics of domestic violence or abuse or has no knowledge of assessment techniques in addressing the issues at hand [68]. This highlights the need to provide custody evaluators with continuing education and training in relevant areas so that they can recognize and assess the effects of child and adolescent developmental outcomes, child forensic interview techniques, custody evaluation procedures, family conflict and domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect [2,3,5].

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