Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

What Does A Custody/Parenting Time Expert Report Look Like? (Part 4)

PERTINENT PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES:

Pertaining to N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), it is my professional opinion based upon provided materials, clinical observation, clinical interviews, psychometric testing, collateral evaluations, processional experience, and research that on a psychological basis:

I. With respect to the parent’s ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in the best interests of Jane and John, there is a history of limited communications due, in part, to: 1) Mr. Jones’ apparent desire to avoid conflict based upon Ms. Williams’ prior behaviors and his underlying personality, and 2) Ms. Williams’ underlying personality. Moreover, Ms. Williams believes that the parties ongoing use of a parenting coordinator is of little benefit to foster communications due to the time required to develop a recommendation, limited enforcement capabilities of the parenting coordinator, and extreme cost; therefore, considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

II. With respect to the parent’s ability to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation not based upon substantiated abuse:

A. Both parents have demonstrated ability and willingness to accept custody; therefore, considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

B. There is no verified pattern of unwillingness by either party; therefore, not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

C. Both parties have extensive contact with Jane and John; therefore, considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

III. With respect to the interaction and relationship of the child with his or her parents and siblings,

A. Jane and John are twins. Moreover, they have a half-sibling through both parents therefore, considered a significant factor.

B. Jane and John are affectionate and emotionally bonded to both parents and half siblings; therefore, considered a significant factor because to remove contact without due cause is likely to have a significant negative impact upon Jane and John.

C. Both parents are affectionate and emotionally bonded to Jane and John; therefore considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

D. Ms. Williams has a demonstrated history of being the primary caretaker; therefore considered a significant factor.

IV. With respect to a history of domestic violence, no objective data was presented to verify the presence of domestic violence in this case. Moreover, the indirect data is approximately 5 years old and there is limited contact between the parties. Likewise, Mr. Jones has received and responded positively to therapy in regards to issues which might have led to any issues; therefore, not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

V. With respect to the safety of the child and safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent; no objective data was present to verify the presence of the same; therefore, not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

VI. With respect to the preference of the child, Jane and John are not of sufficient age to reason so as to from an intelligent opinion. However, both stated a preference for time with both parents and less switching between their homes; therefore, not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

VII. With respect to the needs of the child, it appears:

A. Jane:

1. Presented no special needs; therefore, not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

2. Requires ongoing contact with both parents in order to maintain bonding because there is no other intervening factor; therefore considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

B. John:

1. Presented a history of special education needs. Although these needs to not require outside intervention at this time, a stable home environment which can provide consistency and follow up is highly recommended; therefore, considered a significant factor.

2. Requires ongoing contact with both parents in order to maintain bonding because there is no other intervening factor; therefore considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

VIII. With respect to the stability of home environment offered, both parent’s homes are stable with respect to composition and location; therefore not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

IX. With respect to the quality and continuity of Jane’s and John’s education, both parties indicated that they plan to keep the children enrolled at Oratory Preparatory School; therefore not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

X. With respect to the fitness of the parents and their conduct creating “a substantial adverse effect” upon Jane and/or John,

A. Neither Mr. Jones nor Ms. Williams:

1. Appear to have an unaddressed, current gross fitness factor which might impact custody/parenting time; therefore, not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

2. Have behaved in such a fashion as to create a “substantial adverse effect” upon Jane or John in the past; therefore not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

XI. With respect to geographic proximity, Mr. Jones and Ms. Williams live approximately one (1) hour or forty (40) miles from each other. However, they primarily use the children’s school as the transfer point which is more convenient to their work/residences. As a result, geographic proximity only becomes a factor on holidays and alternate Sunday evenings when school is not used as the transition point.

XII. With respect to the extent and quality of time spent with Jane prior to the current litigation, John and Jane spend eight (8) days with their mother and six (6) days with their father in a two week cycle. Research would suggest that although the time is not precisely equal, it is more than sufficient for the children to maintain and foster a relationship with their father; therefore not considered a significant psychological/custody issue.

XIII. With respect to Mr. Jones’ and Ms. Williams’ employment responsibilities, neither party appears to have employment responsibilities such as extensive overnight travel which might impact their ability to provide for Jane and/or John’s best interests; therefore not considered a factor.

XIV. With respect to age and the number of children; Jane and John are twins. They have a younger half-sister, Wendy, through Mr. Jones and an older half-sister, through Ms. Williams. Although the children see Marie more often, any custody parenting time schedule should promote the children’s relationships with their half-sisters during their parenting time with the respective parents; therefore considered a significant factor.

RECOMMENDATIONS :

Based upon provided materials, clinical observation, clinical interviews, psychometric testing, collateral contacts, professional experience, and research, it is my professional opinion and recommendation that the Court should consider the following:

I. Joint legal custody should continue be granted to Ms. Williams and Mr. Jones because:

A. Neither party displayed or was found to have such a degree of current, gross psychopathology as to necessitate deviations from joint legal custody.

B. There are no apparent, significant changes in circumstances (i.e. death, marriage, etc.) which would necessitate a change.

C. There are no other circumstances such as alienation, work features, etc. which research suggests would require deviations from joint legal custody on a psychological basis (Baker; Kuenhle; Carter.)

D. Both parties displayed some difficulties in communications and cooperation. As such, neither party should be granted sole custody.

II. With respect to caretaking responsibilities, it generally suggested that each parent should provide some caretaking because it supported universally by research (absent of any other significant factor,) maintains/fosters bonding, it is the children’s preference, and such an arrangement will reduce the potential for unintentional alienation or alignment. Generally:

A. Ms. Williams should continue her role as primary caretaker based upon her verified history of implementing the same. Moreover, based upon logic, Ms. Williams’ underlying personality is likely to have her attend to the children’s needs more readily than Mr. Jones.

B. Mr. Jones should continue his role as alternate caretaker.

C. The parties use a computer software program such as www.ourfamilywizard.com to communicate with each other regarding the children. (Please see IV.C.2 below).

III. With respect to a specific custody/parenting plan, an updated parenting plan should be developed in order to promote maximum effective parenting time with both parents while addressing the children’s best interests and preferences. This parenting plan needs to take into account both parties history, prior caretaking history, the parties underlying personality, the parties’ history of inconsistent communications and cooperation, relative parenting strengths/weaknesses, current mental status, geographic proximity, the potential to inadvertently establish alienation/estrangement, etc. (Rohrbaugh; Ackerman; Kelly; Wulach; Baker). The plan should encompass:

A. General provisions during the normal school year (Please see chart below)

1. Ms. Williams should have parenting time on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from after school (or when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude) until the next morning when school resumes (or when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude if there is no school.)

2. Mr. Jones should have parenting time from after school on Thursdays (or when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude) until return to school on Friday (or when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude if there is no school.)

3. The parties should alternate weekends from Friday after school (or when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude) until return to school on Monday (or when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude.)

4. This schedule is largely based upon parties and the children’s request for less exchanges, the need for follow up with John’s school work, and the ability to maintain the school as the transition point.

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Ms. Williams has parenting time.

Ms. Williams has parenting time.

Ms. Williams has parenting time.

Ms. Williams has parenting time.

Ms. Williams has parenting time until Mr. Jones picks children up after school or activity

Mr. Jones has parenting time.

Mr. Jones has parenting time.

Mr. Jones has parenting time.

Mr. Jones has parenting time until Ms. Williams picks children up after school or activity

Ms. Williams has parenting time

Ms. Williams has parenting time.

Ms. Williams has parenting time until Mr. Jones picks children up after school or activity

Mr. Jones has parenting time until Ms. Williams picks children up after school or activity

Ms. Williams has parenting time.

B. General provisions during summer recess which pre-empts the normal school year whereby the schedule is reversed starting the Monday after school is dismissed for the summer. Specifically, Mr. Jones should have parenting time on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from after school (or the time when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude) until the next morning when school resumes (or the time when school/extracurricular activities would normally conclude if there is no school.)

NOTE: Additional specifics for the alternating schedule: 1) If possible the exchange should be done at school. If there is no school, the exchange should occur at the sending parent’s home with the receiving parenting providing all transportation. 2) If there is a delayed opening, the exchange should still occur when the children are scheduled to be dismissed from school. 3) In the event the Governor declares the roads closed or other verified emergency, parenting should resume the day that the roads are re-open and it is safe to travel. 4) The exchange point should always be either the school or sending parents home if the exchange is postponed to the weekend for specified reason. 7) There should be no need for curbside exchange.

C. There should also be an inclusion of an extended “summer vacation” schedule which pre-empts both the standard school schedule and the summer schedule. Specifically, Mr. Jones and Ms. Williams should be able to travel with John and Jane up to two (2) week periods during the summer. These two (2) weeks should not be appended to or overlap any holiday time. The parties will alternate having first choice as to vacation plans with Mr. Jones specifying his choice in odd numbered years and Ms. Williams specifying her choice in even numbered years. The parties should make their choice known through a computer program such as MyFamilyWizard (see below) no later than February 1st of the same year.

III. General provisions for a specific “holiday schedule” which pre-empts both the “normal school year” and “summer vacation” schedule should be observed in accordance with prior agreements reached through the parenting coordination with the following exceptions/inclusions/additions of:

A. Memorial Day Weekend should alternate with Mr. Jones having the children on even years and Ms. Williams having the children on odd years beginning Friday after school preceding the weekend (or when school would normally be dismissed if there is no school) until Tuesday morning when the children return to school.

B. July 4tyh Holiday should alternate with Mr. Jones having the children on odd years and Ms. Williams having the children on even years. The holiday shall commence at 10:00 a.m. and be completed no later than 11:00 p.m. The parent who was assigned parenting time shall provide all transportation.

C. Labor Day Weekend should alternate with Mr. Jones having children in odd years and Ms. Williams having the children in even years. The holiday shall commence at 10:00 a.m. and be completed no later than 11:00 p.m. The parent who is assigned parenting time shall provide all transportation.

D. Thanksgiving: Parenting time should not be adjusted for the Monday and Tuesday preceding Thanksgiving.

E. There is no apparent need for “Mother’s balancing holiday”. This holiday appears to be based more upon the parents need to have equal time rather than anything to do with the children’s best interests.

F. Religious holidays should be observed in accordance with prior parenting time recommendations.

IV. Additional provisions to be used during all custody/parenting time:

A. Transportation:

1. The “receiving parent” is responsible for all transportation.

2. Curb-side pickup is not required.

B. Phone time and texting:

1. All telephone time with non-residential parent should be limited to 15 minutes. Jane and John are old enough to initiate the call to the non-residential parent before they go to bed. It is advisable that the non-residential parent does not call. However, the residential parent is responsible for reminding the child to make the call.

C. Communications:

1. The parties should provide each other with specific, current phone numbers, and contact information for all times including all vacations (even when they do not have parenting time with the children) via e-mail or the parenting software program (see IV.C.2. below.) This includes all hotel addresses, plane schedules, etc. This information should be provided as soon as it becomes available.

2. The parties should obtain a parenting software program such as MyFamilyWizard (www.myfamilywizard.com) in order to communicate and create a record regarding issue around Jane and John. The master account should be password protected and Jane and/or John should not be exposed to the content of any communications between the parties except as permitted by the program.

3. Ms. Williams is responsible for arranging all non-emergent medical appointments and school consultation for the children. She is to notify Mr. Jones within 24 hours of the scheduled date. Mr. Jones should be free to attend any and all school and medical appointments.

4. Ms. Williams is responsible for listing Mr. Jones on all medical, educational, camp etc. forms.

5. Both parties should forward all correspondence such as that received from school to the other party.

D. Activities:

a. Each party should be able to attend all extra-curricular activities, sports games, ceremonies, school performances, etc. All contact between the parties should be limited to pleasantries. There should be no discussion of scheduling, etc.

E. Modifications to parenting time schedule:

a. Once the parenting time schedule is established, any minor deviation should have the express, written consent and agreement through the parenting program of both parents through MyFamilyWizard or similar program and/or the parenting coordinator.

b. Under absolutely no condition should there be any modification to the parenting plan without the express, written consent and agreement of both parties.

c. It shall be sole responsibility of the parent who has scheduled parenting time to use their time to arrange for coverage during their time with the following provisions:

i. The “right of first refusal” should be used if an overnight is involved.

ii. There should be no expectation that the other parent who does not have scheduled parenting time will provide coverage.

iii. If the parent who is scheduled for parenting time does not use their parenting time and has not made arrangements for coverage in advance, they should be responsible for any inconvenience including all reasonable associated costs if the other parent provides coverage.

iv. If the other parent provides coverage, there should be no anticipation of any “make up time”.

V. Therapy and parenting coordination:

A. Therapy for Jane and John was not indicated at this time. If either child demonstrates a need for therapy after the current litigation has concluded, the parties should seek a psychological evaluation before commencing any form of therapy.

B. Both parties should engage the services of a licensed psychologist to act as a parenting coach to help them deal with historical factors and enhance their ability to deal with the other party. The therapy should be:

i. Provided only by a licensed psychologist or social worker because a professional counselor or an attorney does not have the formal training or education to provide services based upon the needs of this case.

ii. Not be provided by an advocacy group or professional who is employed by an advocacy group due to the increased potential for the exacerbation of conflict. (Note: In no way does this statement reflect upon advocacy groups. Rather it reflects upon the particular, unique needs of this case in which no advocacy appears required.)

iii. Provided after the psychologist or social work has had an opportunity to review this report or consultation with me based upon a Court order which allows the same.

C. The ongoing use of a parenting coordinator has become questionable. Although it is clear that the parties have been able to resolve minor parenting issues through the use of a parenting coordinator, Ms. Williams is opposed to the continued use. She indicated that she believes the process takes too long, is too costly, and the parenting coordinator is of dubious value since there is no enforcement ability. Given her hesitance, it is dubious that the parenting coordination process will continue to yield positive results.

D. The parties should continue with their current therapy on a voluntary basis (including medication, if needed) given their history, stated benefit, and general compliance. However, would likely be of benefit if the parties’ current treating professional contacted me in order to provide additional information based upon a release from both parties or an Order by the Court.

E. The parties should refrain from all alcoholic consumption during their parenting time. Likewise, random drug testing of both parties and their current spouses should be implemented in order to alleviate any concerns about drug abuse.

CONCLUSIONS:

Given the specifics of this case, it appears that it is in Jane and John’s best interest that the parties continue to share joint legal custody. Primary caretaking should remain with Ms. Williams with modification to the schedule made as noted above.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the best interest issues in this case. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Respectfully submitted,

Wayne Roberts, Ed.D., D.F.C.

Director of the Center

Licensed Psychologist