Psychological Testing and Mental Health Evaluations in Illinois Child Custody Cases

Psychological Testing and Mental Health Evaluations in Illinois Child Custody Cases

Video by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 28, 2019

This article addresses the mental health evaluation conducted in child custody proceedings. We answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of mental health evaluation in a child custody case?
  • Who is responsible for paying the cost of psychological testing in Illinois child custody cases?]
  • What types of psychological tests may be required in Illinois child custody cases?

For an overview of Illinois child custody laws, check out our article: Illinois Parenting Laws 2019.

When is a mental health evaluation required in Illinois child custody cases?

One important consideration a judge may consider during a child custody proceeding is the mental and/or psychological state of the parents. Courts have the discretion to order psychological testing if they believe that there may be an issue. Also, if one parent believes that the other parent has serious mental and/or psychological issues that would pose a threat to the children, that parent can request a mental health evaluation. Specifically, under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 215, in a case where a party’s mental condition (or the mental condition of a person under a party’s custody or legal control, i.e., a minor child) is in question, the court has discretion to order the examination or deny the request.

The family court usually has to have a significant question about the mental health of one or both parties. But there are cases where this is necessary in the eyes of the family court judge when the allegations or behavior of the parties are serious enough.To deal with this, courts normally refer cases in which the psychological health of one or both of the individuals is called into question to a psychological evaluator. A psychological evaluator is viewed as an objective third party whose job it is to determine the mental health of both parties and make appropriate recommendations to the court.

It’s important to realize that a psychological evaluation may not end up reflecting any significant issues. One  parent may make meritless allegations regarding the mental state of the other parent simply to harass, embarrass, or purposely prolong the litigation. Making such allegations without a valid basis is not only improper, but it can be extremely expensive and in the end damaging to the case and family.

Therefore, It’s always a good idea to consult with your divorce attorney first before filing a motion for psychological evaluation. If you suspect that your spouse has significant mental health issues that could pose a danger to your children, it is imperative that the court positively identify these factors before making a custody determination. What really matters in a psychological evaluation is how the mental make-up of either parent affects the safety, stability and general well-being of the children involved. In a child custody evaluation, the child's interests and well-being are paramount. Parents competing for custody, as well as others, may have legitimate concerns, but the child's best interests must prevail.

What happens during a mental health evaluation in Illinois child custody cases?

In a custody evaluation, at least one of three types of mental health professional will be involved: a social worker; a psychologist; and a psychiatrist. The full evaluation is performed by a mental health expert and will usually consist of the following:

  • a mental status examination
  • a personal observation
  • a personal interview
  • possibly psychological testing 

Who is responsible for paying the cost of psychological testing in Illinois child custody cases?

The person who requests the mental health evaluation is required to pay the fee of the examiner and as well as compensation for any loss of earnings incurred or to be incurred by that  person to be examined  In the case of a court ordered evaluation, then both parents share the cost. 

What types of psychological tests may be required in Illinois child custody cases? 

There are many different types of psychological tests that are designed to measure the parenting capability of each parent and determine whether a parent’s mental state poses a risk to the children’s safety. . The most common are:

  • intelligence tests,
  • personality tests,
  • achievement tests; and
  • tests that analyze the neuropsychological nature of the individual. 

However, more traditional tests such as these do not directly assess parenting skills. For example, while most psychologists, attorneys, and judges are familiar with these tests, they were not created to assess parenting capacity and are not directly related to the parent-child relationship. Therefore, several tests have been developed to more accurately measure parenting. The following tests are valid and reliable indicators of parental abilities:

  • The Parent Child Relationship Inventory (PCRI);
  • Parenting Stress Index (PSI), and
  • Children’s Reports of Parental Behavior (CRPB).

The PCRI assesses the parent’s attitudes toward parenting including parental support, limit setting, involvement and communication.  The PSI measures stressful factors in the parent’s life such as depression, sense of competence, and level of attachment to the child. The PSI appears to be a good predictor of which parent feels stressed by their child. The CRPB assesses a child’s perception of the role their parents play in their lives.  This is a good measure to help assess the child’s view of the situation.

It should be understood that the setting and timing as well as the emotional state of the individual can affect the results of the tests. Therefore, it is expected that psychological testing will be used as a supplement to other information gathered through interviews and observations. The guidelines of the American Psychological Association stress the need for multiple methods of collecting data and cautions against over-interpreting or inappropriately interpreting the data in the evaluation process.

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What is the purpose of a mental health evaluation in a child custody case?

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