CUSTODY EVALUATIONS CONDUCTED AT P.B.S. MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATES, P.C.

Outlined below are the main policies and procedures that affect the conduct of custody evaluations at PBS Mental Health Associates.  Please note that we no longer perform these evaluations on a routine basis.  If you have been ordered by the Court to undergo an evaluation with us, we encourage you to review this document in its entirety and to ask any questions you may have about it, either before or at the time of your first session.  You can print a copy of this document by clicking here.

By way of brief summary, we begin with some comments about the purpose of custody evaluations.  We explain who does the evaluations and then comment on why the procedure is so carefully scripted.  We answer questions about whether your attorney sits in on the sessions and if a recording made, after which we discuss how evaluators differ from therapists.  We then note that you may not request an evaluation on your own, and we explain what we mean by the term "parent".  In the section describing the sequence of sessions, we note that it is unlikely you will see the other party in our office.  We go on to explain what happens in the first meeting with the evaluator and also make a few comments about the MMPI-2 test.  We discuss the family session and then describe what happens in the last session with the evaluator.  We end this section with a description of the evaluator’s report.  In order to make this all more concrete, we then offer an example of a "typical" evaluation schedule.  Following a few words about custody re-evaluations, we detail our fee schedule and then note that health insurance doesn’t generally pay for custody evaluations.  This is followed by a section in which we describe our policy regarding cancellations and missed appointments.  A very important section follows, in which we explain why there is no confidentiality in the evaluation process.  Because custody disputes sometimes go on to a full hearing in court, we make several comments about how to arrange for the evaluator’s testimony in court, after which we detail the associated charges for court testimony.  We end with information about whom to contact if you have further questions.

Introductory comments.  The purpose of a custody evaluation is to gather information that may be helpful to the parents and to the Court in making a sensible decision about how to allocate the time that each parent spends with the children.  Children’s custody is a very important matter, and the Court often wishes to have an outside expert evaluate the family and offer some advice on how to proceed.  Of course, we hope that the parents will use the expert’s report as the basis for a negotiated agreement before the case proceeds to a full hearing in court.  Such agreements between the parents almost always benefit the children more than any arrangement imposed by the Court.

PBS Mental Health Associates has provided custody evaluations upon referral from local courts since 1992, and our psychologist, Andrew Koffmann, PhD, has undertaken such evaluations since 1980.

In our practice we strive to follow a procedure that is consistent across cases, as we believe that this helps us to treat each side in a fair and impartial manner.  However, we recognize that custody evaluations can be extraordinarily stressful for families, and we will do our best to accommodate specific needs and requests, as long as this does not—either in fact or by appearance—jeopardize the fairness of the evaluation.  As you read through the material below, you will notice that we have established rather precise and detailed rules for the conduct of custody evaluations.  You may also notice that many of these rules are not the same as those that we follow in this practice when we provide treatment services for our patients.  We apologize for this disparity.  However, we trust you will understand that we are obliged to follow different rules for custody evaluations, in comparison to treatment, because these activities differ significantly from one another.  When we operate in a legal environment, we must become, well, legalistic.

The custody evaluator has the task of insuring that the evaluation is equitable and comprehensive, but it is also important that an environment be established in which the evaluator, parents, and children can speak comfortably and honestly about the situation at hand.  Therefore, we attempt to minimize distractions and to limit formality to the smallest amount necessary to insure the integrity of the process.  Obviously, this means that the attorneys may not be present in any evaluation session, nor do we make videotapes or audio recordings of the sessions.  Finally, we do not permit individuals who are not part of the evaluation to sit in on any session.

In order for custody evaluators to function in a fair and helpful manner, it is important that they not also act as therapists in the same case, because at some level therapists always advocate for their patients.  Thus, if an evaluator has previously served as a parent’s or the children’s therapist, this is likely to lead to a conflict of interest.  It is therefore our policy that the custody evaluator may never have served as therapist for either the parents or the children in the dispute.  Moreover, during the course of the evaluation the custody evaluator should not offer substantive advice, as this may blur the line between evaluator and therapist.

Because we feel strongly about remaining impartial in custody evaluations, we do not undertake these evaluations upon the direct request of one or both parties.  Instead, we require a court order before beginning the evaluation process. 

A final general comment has to do with terminology.  Most of the time the parties to a custody dispute are the children’s mother and father.  However, sometimes the dispute is between one parent and other relatives or between individuals who may not even be related to the children.  For the sake of simplicity, in this document we refer to the custody litigants as "parents," even though they might not actually be the parents of the children at issue.  When the Court refers us someone who is not the parent in a custody dispute, it is our policy that this person be treated in exactly the same way as if he or she were the children’s biological parent.

Outline of sessions.  In this section we describe the session sequence in a typical custody evaluation.  We will make every effort to schedule parents in such a way that they do not run into one another at our office, but on very rare occasions such chance meetings may occur.

  1. Each adult has an individual appointment.  During this appointment Dr. Koffmann will go over more information about the custody evaluation process and will then ask questions about personal history, current medical and psychological problems, and the children at issue in the dispute, as well as to offer each adult the opportunity to propose a solution to the dispute, based on the best interests of the children.  Among the adults who meet individually with Dr. Koffmann will be each parent, any other adult residing in either parent’s household, and any serious romantic partner of either parent.  One parent—and all of the adults connected with him/her—will be seen at one time, while the other parent—and all of the adults connected with him/her—will be seen at another time.    If you have a history of significant medical or mental health treatment, Dr. Koffmann may request your permission to contact previous treatment providers and to review your treatment records.  Parents are asked not to bring any children to this initial session.

  2. Every adult seen by Dr. Koffmann also completes a psychological inventory, which is called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory—2 (MMPI-2).  This is a true-false test that measures a number of personality variables, and most people need between 1¼ and 1½ hours to complete it.  The MMPI-2 is not a hard test—it’s just long.  We generally prefer that you complete the MMPI-2 on the day of your individual interview, but it’s all right to do it on another day, as long as it is completed before the family session.  Unfortunately, we must have you complete this measure in our office and cannot accept it if it has been filled out elsewhere.

  3. Each parent has a family session.  Those attending the first parent’s family session include the parent, any adult previously seen by Dr. Koffmann on that parent’s side, all of the children at issue in the custody dispute, and any other children residing in the first parent’s household.  Similarly, in the second parent’s family session will be that parent, other adults seen by Dr. Koffmann for that parent, all of the children at issue, and any other children residing in the second parent’s household.  Please note that we do not let the other parent know about the time of your scheduled family appointment.  If you are concerned about insuring that your children are available for the family session, you may wish to contact your attorney or the Court.  At the beginning of the family session Dr. Koffmann will briefly meet with all of the participants together, after which he will meet with the children, either alone or together, depending on their ages.  Dr. Koffmann will then meet with the adults and the children for a while and will encourage a discussion on several topics.

  4. Each parent has a final session.  Only the parent need attend his or her final session, but parents are welcome to bring along any other adult previously seen individually on their behalf by Dr. Koffmann.  The purpose of the final session is to permit each parent the opportunity to raise any issues that have not yet been discussed.  As well, Dr. Koffmann usually has a few more questions he needs to ask.  At the end of the final session Dr. Koffmann will discuss alternative resolutions to the custody dispute and will invite the parent’s comments on each possible resolution.  Parents are asked not to bring any children to this session.

After all of the meetings have been completed, Dr. Koffmann will write a report.  This report is almost always more than 20 pages long and includes the content of each session, as well as to offer a brief interpretation of the MMPI-2 results.  At the end of the report Dr. Koffmann will make some recommendations about how to resolve the dispute.  Our office will send this report to the Court, which will in turn send copies to the attorneys for both sides.  In most jurisdictions your attorney will then go over the report with you in as much detail as you desire.

Example.  John and Mary are the divorced parents of two children, Nicole and Jason.  Following the divorce, Mary marries Alex, who has custody of his son, Billy.  For this family, the evaluation schedule is shown below.  Also shown below is the payment due at each session, assuming that each side pays only his or her own charges.  Our fee schedule is explained in a later section.

DATE
 
ACTIVITY
 
PAYMENT
 
June 1 Individual session and MMPI-2 for John $ 543.75
June 8 Individual sessions and MMPI-2s for Mary and Alex 660.00
June 15 Family session for Mary, Alex, Nicole, Jason, and Billy 660.00
June 22 Family session for John, Nicole, and Jason 543.75
June 29 Final session for John -0-   
July 6 Final session for Mary -0-   
July 27 Report sent to the Court -0-   

Custody re-evaluations.  Sometimes the parties to a custody dispute return to court a few years after a custody evaluation has been completed.  If the Court asks that you come back to our office for an updated evaluation, we will do our best to accomplish everything in one long visit for each side, including individual sessions with the adults and children, as well as a family session similar to the one described in the previous section.  The decision about whether to repeat psychological testing will depend on several factors, including the amount of time that has elapsed since the last evaluation.  Please be aware that during your re-evaluation session you may not be available to your children for a period of up to two hours.  If you have young children who cannot remain unsupervised in the waiting area by themselves, we ask that you bring along another adult to look after your children during this session.  Please note that we do not let the other parent know about the time of your scheduled re-evaluation appointment.  If you are concerned about insuring that your children are available for this, you may wish to contact your attorney or the Court.

Fee schedule.  Our office will calculate the required payment for each side and will let you know about this during the telephone call in which you are scheduled to be seen.  Generally, you will be asked to pay half of the required fee at the time of your first appointment and half at the time of your family session, as shown in the previous example.  If there is any change in the payment schedule, we will make sure to notify you of this in advance.  Listed below is the fee schedule currently in effect for custody evaluations in our office.  Please be aware that virtually all court orders specify how the fees are to be allocated between the parents.  This office is obliged to abide by the court order.

Each parent’s individual appointment $ 315.00
Each additional adult appointment 157.50
Each family session 315.00
Each final session 157.50
Each MMPI-2 (psychological test) 75.00
Report generation fee (may be split between parents) 450.00

Some individuals referred for evaluation by the Butler County Court may be eligible for reduced fees.  However, this is a determination made by the Court and will be explicitly mentioned in the court order.

For custody re-evaluations the following fee schedule applies:

First two hours of re-evaluation session $ 315.00
Each additional hour of re-evaluation session 105.00
Each MMPI-2 (psychological test) 75.00
Report generation fee (may be split between parents) 300.00

The charges for custody evaluations are virtually never covered by health insurance.  Of course, you are free to ask your insurance carrier to reimburse you for our fees, and we will be happy to provide you with an itemized receipt for this purpose.  However, regardless of health insurance coverage we ask that you adhere to the payment schedule that was established at the time your appointments were scheduled.  Please be sure to bring the correct payment amount to each session.  For your convenience, our office accepts major credit cards.  Unfortunately, Dr. Koffmann cannot meet with you if you fail to make a payment on the established schedule.

Cancellations and missed appointments.  Almost all court orders require that custody evaluations be completed within 90 days of the first appointment.  In order to meet this directive, we ask for your full cooperation in the scheduling process, as well as to ask that you keep your scheduled appointments and that you make required payments on time.

If you need to change a scheduled appointment, please make sure to do so within the first week after the telephone call in which you agreed upon the schedule.  If you need to cancel an appointment after this one-week grace period, you will be responsible to pay a 25% service fee for all pending appointments on both sides that need to be rescheduled.  In any event, we ask that you give us at least 24 hours’ notice of any cancelled appointment.  If you must cancel an appointment less than 24 hours prior to the scheduled time, we will be obliged to charge the full fee for that missed appointment, in addition to the 25% service charge for all subsequent appointments that have to be rescheduled.  As well, if you arrive at an appointment without the required fee or all the persons who were scheduled to participate in the session, you will not be seen on that day.  We will treat this as a missed appointment, and the charges noted above will be imposed.  As you may imagine, we are obliged to keep the Court abreast of the progress of your evaluation, and we have to let the Court know of any appointment changes as they are made.

No confidentiality.  In general, when you speak with a mental health professional, the content of your discussion remains private, but this is not the case for custody evaluations!  Because your custody evaluation was ordered by the Court, Dr. Koffmann is unable to keep private anything you tell him in connection with the case.  Virtually everything you say to Dr. Koffmann will be divulged to the Court and to certain other parties, such as the parents’ attorneys.  As Dr. Koffmann will explain during your first meeting with him, confidentiality will not apply over the course of this evaluation.  The report sent to the Court will contain most or all of the relevant information that the parties have provided, either orally during meetings with Dr. Koffmann or in any other form, including written communications, medical records, and the like.

Court testimony.  The majority of custody disputes settle before a full court hearing becomes necessary.  In the minority of cases that are not resolved between the parties, one of the parties may wish to ask Dr. Koffmann to testify as a witness at the hearing.  This is generally not a problem, but we want to make you aware of several points.

  1. Please make sure that your attorney contacts our office at least two months prior to the scheduled hearing date to determine whether Dr. Koffmann will be available to testify at that time.  On several occasions in the past judges have declined to reschedule a hearing when the requesting party failed to give reasonable notice that Dr. Koffmann would be unavailable to testify.

  2. We generally ask for a retainer of $1000 for court testimony.  This fee is the responsibility of the party that requests Dr. Koffmann’s testimony, and it must be paid in full at least two weeks prior to the scheduled hearing date.  If after the hearing we determine that your retainer has not been used up, we will refund any unused portion.  If there are additional charges (for example, because the hearing lasts longer than anticipated), we will send you a bill for the residual amount.  We are unable to confirm Dr. Koffmann’s availability to testify in court until the full retainer is received in our office.  If the retainer is not received in our office at least two weeks prior to the scheduled hearing date, it is very unlikely that Dr. Koffmann will be able to testify at all.

  3. We want to let you know that Dr. Koffmann is available to meet with either attorney prior to the hearing, as noted below in the schedule of charges.

  4. Here is the fee schedule that we currently follow in connection with court testimony in custody cases.  Please note that these charges apply only to custody cases.  Testimony in other forensic activities is generally billed at a higher rate.

Normal preparation fee $ 210.00
One hour meeting with an attorney 105.00
Testimony in court, per hour 315.00
Testimony in a deposition, per hour 210.00
Waiting time before or during testimony, per hour 105.00

Concerns or complaints.  We recognize that these evaluations often cause people to feel very uncomfortable, and we want you to know that we will do what we can to make this difficult experience as easy as possible for you.  If you have any questions at all about the process, time frames, the nature of the final report, or any other matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Koffmann or the administrative staff person in our practice who handles your scheduling.  As well, if you are unhappy about our custody evaluation procedure or believe that you have not been treated fairly, please speak with Dr. Koffmann or the administrative staff person.  If we cannot resolve any conflicts, you are of course free to speak with the Court about the matter.

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