Psychological Risk Assessment

A parent's right to be actively involved in the lives of his or her children is considered a fundamental right, and is strongly protected by the courts. A psychological visitation risk assessment is usually requested when one parent has made allegations against the other parent relating to psychological problems or behavior which could have an adverse effect on the children.

Best Interests of the Child

The best interests of the children take precedence over a parent's right of access to his/her children, if the facts support a strong risk of potential harm to the children as a result of unrestricted parental visitation. The mere presence of an accusation by the other parent is insufficient, because either parent could be making a false claim to the court regarding parent-child interactions. Further, a custodial parent may choose to err on the side of caution in requesting restrictions on visitation by the non-custodial parent, and that parent's perception of potential harm may be influenced by conflict with the other parent. 

The role of a psychologist in completing a visitation risk assessment is to determine whether there is any objective evidence of a psychological problem or behavior pattern that would result in a high liklihood of inappropriate and potentially harmful interactions between parent and child. Presence of a diagnosed psychological problem is insufficient, because many individuals with such problems function adequately as parents, before and after divorce. The question to be addressed by the psychologist, is whether there is evidence of a psychological problem which would predict harmful behavior. Harm can occur either by direct action of the parent, as in the case of child abuse, or it can occur as the result of neglect because of poor parental decision making or judgement. This might include exposing the child to physical or emotional danger, or failing to adequately supervise the child.

When completing a visitation risk assessment it is helpful for the psychologist to interview both parents, although it is possible to obtain information about the allegations made by the custodial parent through a review of the documents presented to the court. Both clinical interviews and psychological tests are used to assess the risk to the child, as well as a review of pertinent court documents related to past domestic violence, child abuse, or other involvement with the courts, and a review of records pertaining to past mental health treatment of either parent. The circumstances of the case will dictate whether the child needs to be interviewed, or whether the parent and child need to be seen together.

Past mental health treatment of the child, or the presence of any physical or emotional disabilities in the child, as well as basic information about the child, such as age and academic progress, need to be reviewed as well. Issues of parental alienation are often present in these cases, but custody is typically not contested. The role of the psychologist is to determine whether there is evidence to indicate that visitation, supervised or unsupervised, presents a risk of physical or emotional harm to the child or children. If the conclusions indicate a visitation risk, then the psychologist should recommend remedial action that may reduce or eliminate the risk. The ultimate goal is to make recommendations that are in the best interests of the child in the present, and for the long term.   

Dr Franklin has experience completing 
Visitation Risk Assessment Psychological Evaluations. 
Please call (908) 526-8111 for more information.