Child custody disputes are complicated. For psychologists and others starting their careers in forensic custody assessments, the multitude of legal, ethical, and clinical issues can be daunting — and the risk of causing emotional injury is real.

This book explains the complex judicial and legal requirements of child custody evaluations and presents a straightforward protocol for mental health professionals who evaluate these cases. The authors review the legal evidentiary standards that pertain to psychological testing, scientific evidence, and the expert witness testimony used in the court system.

Most importantly, the clear, step-by-step evaluation protocol herein has been used successfully in thousands of cases for more than 15 years, and has been demonstrated to minimize the risk of suits or complaints.

Useful for novice and seasoned evaluators alike, this new edition adheres to updated principles of procedural justice, and reflects current standards of fairness, objectivity, and transparency.

Table of Contents


I. Understanding the Context

  1. Current Research and Controversial Issues

II. The Evaluation Protocol

  1. Phase 1: Preevaluation Procedures
  2. Phase 2: First Clinical Interview
  3. Phase 3: Observations of Parents and Children
  4. Phase 4: Interviewing Third Parties
  5. Phase 5: Closing Interviews
  6. Phase 6: Presentation to the Attorneys and the Court

III. Annotated Report Outline and Sample Evaluation Reports

  1. Annotated Structure of a Parenting Evaluation Report
  2. Sample A. Report of Mr. D. v. Ms. M., Evaluation for Modification of Parenting Plan
  3. Sample B. Report of Mr. D. v. Ms. M., Evaluation for Permanent Parenting Plan Action

IV. Appendixes

  • Appendix A. Behaviorally Specific Screening Tool
  • Appendix B. Sample Agreement to Parenting Evaluation
  • Appendix C. Sample Steps of Parenting Evaluation
  • Appendix D. Sample Tracking Form
  • Appendix E. Sample Declarations
  • Appendix F. Sample Questions for First Semistructured Interview
  • Appendix G. Allegation Forms Regarding Other Parent and Child-Focused Allegations
  • Appendix H. Sample Release of Information
  • Appendix I. Samples of Semistructured Questions for Interview With the Teen



About the Authors

Author Bios

G. Andrew H. Benjamin, JD, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical professor of psychology and affiliate professor of law at the University of Washington. He has published 74 peer-reviewed articles in psychology, law, and psychiatry journals, as well as several books. Two of his lectures about issues related to child custody are available on YouTube.

While working with families engaged in high-conflict litigation and with lawyers with various mental health and drug abuse problems, and in various governance positions, Dr. Benjamin has received multiple awards from such groups as the Puyallup Indian Nation, the Washington State Bar Association, the Washington State Psychological Association, and APA.

Dr. Benjamin lives in Seattle with his wife of 40 years. Their two adult children also live and work in Seattle and are on the cusp of starting their own families.

Connie J. Beck, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Arizona in the Department of Psychology.

Dr. Beck has conducted research investigating short- and long-term outcomes for divorcing couples experiencing intimate partner violence and mediating their disputes. This work includes a large, longitudinal, archival study through multiple official databases (mediation, superior court, law enforcement).

With colleagues from Indiana, Dr. Beck developed a risk assessment instrument and is currently conducting a randomized controlled trial of two models of divorce mediation for highly violent couples (shuttle and videoconferencing) as compared with returning to court.

Dr. Beck's more recent research includes testing a batterer treatment adapted for adolescent boys charged with domestic violence and investigating children in the child welfare system and involuntarily committed individuals.

Morgan Shaw, PhD, is a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, and the current clinical director at the Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma (IVAT).

Dr. Shaw manages IVAT's training program and also provides trauma-informed therapeutic services to a variety of adolescent and adult clients. She also conducts psychological and forensic evaluations within the criminal, civil, juvenile, and family courts, and provides trainings nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics including the effects of trauma, trauma-informed practices, child maltreatment, and sexual assault.

Dr. Shaw also serves as the publication coordinator for four professional journals, which include the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse; the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma; the Journal of Child Custody; and the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma.

Robert Geffner, PhD, ABN, ABPP, is the founding president of a nonprofit international resource, professional services, and training center (Family Violence & Sexual Assault Institute, now one of the centers within the Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma). He is Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at Alliant International University, editor of four professional journals, including the Journal of Child Custody, a licensed psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist. He has also directed full-service private practice mental health clinics.

He has a diplomate in clinical neuropsychology and is board certified in couple and family psychology. He trains nationally and internationally on child abuse, domestic violence, trauma, forensic psychology, child custody, and diagnostic assessment.

Dr. Geffner is a founding member/past president of APA Division 56 (Division of Trauma Psychology) and the immediate past president of the American Academy of Couple & Family Psychology. He has been a researcher, trainer, practitioner, and consultant for 35 years.

Reviews & Awards

Essential reading for anyone who conducts child custody evaluations or relies on them, this outstanding volume integrates current research and practice standards into a practical approach that will effectively manage risk while producing helpful results.
—Philip L. Kaplan, PhD
independent practice

One of the greatest threats facing families involved with the judicial system is unqualified mental health professionals conducting custody evaluations. In this book, Benjamin, Beck, Shaw, and Geffner tackle the problem head-on, preparing practitioners for the complex legal arena by integrating sound forensic experience, ethical practice strategies, and scientific literature.
—Viola Vaughan-Eden, LCSW, MJ, PhD
PhD Program Director and Associate Professor of Social Work, Norfolk State University, Newport News, VA, and President, National Organization of Forensic Social Work