204 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 39:2 2019]
custody decisions, Turkat says no scientific data currently supports this presumption.
Despite their obligation to provide the court with their opinion of best interest, Turkat
argues that organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) have
failed to address the lack of evidence of mental health professionals’ benefit. Failure to
address the void may stem from mental health professionals’ financial incentive to involve
themselves in family law cases. Altogether, he believes the conventional belief of a mental
health professional’s role in child custody hearings is based off “wishful thinking.”
Turkat theorizes that custody evaluations may also not be in the best financial
interests of the involved children. Families ordered to participate in custody evaluations
often incur thousands of dollars in fees, sometimes even tens of thousands. These high
costs are incurred at a financially susceptible time for reorganizing families, encountering
many newfound expenses. By proxy, children may suffer financial harm. When families
spend thousands of dollars seeking a third party’s professional opinion on the custody of
their child/children, naturally less money is available for spending in other areas. Funds
toward recreation, vacation, or savings for the child may no longer be available following
custody evaluations, therefore depleting the child’s financial interests. In extreme cases,
costs incurred by psychologists equaled the families entire net worth. Scientific research
indicates economic stability as a leading predictor of how well children adjust to a divorce.
That following, Turkat demonstrates how financial strain on a family without substantiated
benefit to the child leaves the child ultimately harmed.
Additionally, Turkat believes custody evaluations psychologically harm children.
First, Turkat points to many past claims from participants that the experience was
detrimental. Scientific studies on the effects of psychotherapy in other areas suggest the
possibility of their detriment in child custody evaluations. Turkat cites studies raising the
negative effects of psychotherapists, and states that “it is a well-established scientific fact
that in their efforts to be helpful, mental health professionals actually harm a subset of their
patients.” Further, the common errors of this sort cost billions of dollars to remedy.
Invading privacy of individuals can induce stress; Turkat suggests the sensitivity of custody
evaluations creates an added turbulence for children.
III. THE STUDY
To conduct his study, Turkat deployed a nationally recognized private research firm
and developed an online screening process where subjects answered questions one at a
time. Any subject not meeting the criteria was removed from the study. Those who met the
criteria each identified that they: (1) went through a divorce; (2) participated in a custody
evaluation study with a psychologist; (3) were willing to provide details requested about
the evaluation; (4) indicated they paid for the evaluation with family funds; and (5) had no
relation to any other study participant.
Ultimately, Turkat reached his target sample size of 101 parents. Each participant
in the study was asked yes/no questions on whether their custody evaluator did or did not