by Wes Cowell, updated 13 January 2015
Psychological tests are used in some, but not all, custody evaluations. The tests that are usually used are discussed below. Need advice? Call, leave your info, or schedule a consult.
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI): The MMPI is an objective personality test. Brace yourself. This is a 567-question, true-false test. The test is scored by a computer and the results are graphed on a series of four "validity scales" and ten "clinical scales." The validity scales help determine when a client may not be answering questions entirely truthfully. Your results will then be tested against normative scales.
The validity scales are:
1. The "Cannot say" scale: Reported as the "? Scale," this scale refers to the answer alternative to the true / false: "cannot say." The test presumes that most folks can answer most of the questions. One obvious strategy for a testee to avoid detection of a mental disorder would be to answer "cannot say" to many questions. Generally speaking, if you answer 30 or more questions (out of the 567 on the MMPI) as "cannot say," the test results will be considered invalid.
2. The Lie scale: Reported as the "L Scale," like its name suggests, this scale is a rough attempt to identify liars B those test takers who are obviously trying to lie on the test. Fifteen simple questions are asked about minor character flaws to which virtually everyone is willing to admit and would answer the same way. The obvious "liars," of course, deny that they have such character flaws.
3. The Infrequency scale: The "F Scale" relies on 64 questions to measure deviant or irrational answers. Sometimes test takers will intentionally try to look bad (think of the accused murderer trying to convince a court he's insane). The F Scale is designed to detect such efforts.
4. The Correction scale: Reported as the "K Scale," the 30 questions it uses help identify those individuals who are apparently trying to make themselves look better than they really are. High K Scale scores indicate defensiveness and low K Scale scores indicate unusual openness and self-criticism.
The 10 clinical scales of the MMPI are:
Scale 1: Hypochondriasis: High scale 1 scores translate to findings of individuals who exhibit some manifestations of hypochondria and may be selfish, self-centered, narcissistic and may have negative or pessimistic and cynical outlooks. High scale 1 scores also indicate individuals who tend to be unhappy or dissatisfied and manage to let others know their emotions through whining, complaining, and criticism. Low Scale 1 scores, on the other hand, translate to findings of individuals whose outlook is fairly optimistic and who are relatively productive in day-to-day living.
Scale 2: Depression: High scale 2 score indicate an individual is susceptible to bouts of depression and generally has a poorer outlook on life. Low Scale 2 scores indicates an individual properly tending to stress and exhibiting an ease with life and a self-confidence. They tend to be more emotionally stable and finctional in day-to-day living.
Scale 3: Hysteria: High Scale 3 scores identify individuals who tend to respond poorly to stressful situations. These individuals tend to be reactive, rather than proactive and often respond to stress with physical ailments (headaches, chest pains, anxiety attacks) allowing them to avoid responsibility. They are prone to worry, can come across as psychologically immature and somewhat narcissistic. Low scale 3 scores identify individuals who may be more conventional and conforming than most. They tend to limit their own social involvement and avoid leadership responsibility.
Scale 4: Psychopathic Deviate: High Scale 4 scores indicate the subject has difficulty conforming to society's demands and generally presents a disregard for social customs and mores. Such individuals may exhibit antisocial behavior like lying, cheating, stealing, substance abuse, and sexually inappropriate conduct. Low scale 4 scores identify individuals accepting of authority and willing to conform to society's conventions. They may exhibit passive or even submissive behavior and may be unable to accept responsibility for their own behavior.
Scale 5: Masculine / Feminine: This scale has been greatly revised on the MMPI II. On the original MMPI subjects were given either a "male test" or a "female test." High Scale 5 scores were often interpreted to indicate a finding of homosexuality. Conversely, low scores indicated men more prone to emphasizing brute strength over reason and of limited intellectual ability. For women, low scale 5 scores are interpreted as indicating a woman who accepts stereotypical female roles. To the modern eye, the questions appear laughably simplistic and sexist. Scale 5 on the original MMPI is of very limited use.
Scale 6: Paranoia: High Scale 6 scores identify individuals exhibiting paranoid behavior such as feelings of persecution and suspiciousness.
Scale 7: Psychathenia (Obsessive / Compulsive): High Scale 7 scores identify individuals who may exhibit excessive doubt, unreasonable fear, and compulsive and ritualistic behavior. They tend to lack self-confidence and are likely to be perfectionists.
Scale 8: Schizophrenia: High Scale 8 scores help identify individuals who may be laboring with mental disorders impacting their thought processes, mood, and behavior moderation. They may misinterpret reality and experience delusions and hallucinations.
Scale 9: Hypomania: (Bi-Polar or Manic- Depressive): High Sclae 9 scores identify those individuals who who tend to exhibit the mood swings from elation to depression consistent with manic-depressive behavior.
Scale 10: Social Introversion: This scale identified individuals who tend to be shy, timid, and introverted. They find greater comfort in being alone rather than in a social situation. They tend to withdraw from social contact and responsibilities.
MMPI- 2: The classic MMPI was revised in 1989 and the new test, in addition to the 14 scales of the MMPI, includes more scales: three more for validity and a multitude of clinical subscales. The MMPI-2 is not a custody evaluation tool, per se, but it can be used by qualified experts as a tool in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of an individual as a candidate for single-parenting.
The Millon Clinical Multi-axial Inventory (MCMI): This is a 175 true/ false test modeled after the MMPI. It is designed to track the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-the compendium that defines and categorizes elements of psychopathology. Some experts have even gone so far as to advise not using it for such purposes. In 1996, McCann and Dyer recommended that he MCMI be used primarily for diagnostic, rather than forensic, purposes. Instead, they recommended practitioners stick with the MMPI-2 for forensic tests.On the other hand, Dr. Theodore Millon himself (the test's developer) argues that the test is very useful in custody cases because so many of his test subjects were involved in such litigation while he was devising his test.
The Ackerman- Schoendorf Parent Evaluation for Custody Test (ASPECT Test): ASPECT, like Bricklin and CQ, was specifically created to aide judges and lawyers in making custody awards. Sixty questions are answered partly by the subject and partly by the examiner. The questions fall into one of three categories which, in turn, are translated into three scales. The three categories are: observational, social, and emotional / cognitive. The examiner evaluates the parent's appearance in answering the observational questions. The social scale considers the parent in relation to the child and to the parent's own family of origin as well as with the other parent and with the broader community. The parent's history of run-ins with the law, substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse (perpetrator or victim) are also considered as are the parent's stability in the community. The results are formulated into a "parental custody index" (PCI). When the PCIs of both parents are compared, a variance of less than ten points produces no recommendation. A variance of more than ten points however, strongly indicates that the parent with the higher score would be the better care provider (and custodial parent) for the child. Scores above 85 indicate that either parent would satisfy the custodial requirements -- regardless of teh point difference betweenthem -- and, of course, two scores below a certain minimum (65) indicate broad parenting problems and that neither parent will serve as a good custodial parent.
The Bricklin Perceptual Scales Test (BSP): This test is intended to measure a child's unconscious perception of his or her parents in the areas of competence, supportiveness, follow-up consistency and admirable traits. The test was designed to be used in custody evaluations. Dr. Bricklin's objective was to devise a test that would offer meaningful insight into the determination of which parent would be the better primary care giver.
The test focuses on the child's perceptions rather than the parent's respective performance. It does this without asking direct questions of the child. The test consists of 64 cards with a long, horizontal line drawn across them. The examiner asks a question and the child punches a hole along the continuum of the line (like, on a scale of one to ten, with one meaning "I disagree" and ten meaning "I strongly agree"). The questions ask about how the child perceives each parent's abilities-each question is asked twice, once for Mom and once for Dad-and the child punches a card for each question. At the end of the test, the examiner identifies which parent the child perceives to have scored higher in response to each question. The scores are tallied and the parent with the greatest number of positive answers is recommended as the primary care-giver.
There are some flaws to the Bricklin test-most obviously, a child whose mind is made up (or has been made up for him) likely will not give reliable answers. More problematic is the fact that by the time the test is administered, the parents have probably undergone a significant change in their attitude and approaches to parenting. "Superparents" often develop when the specter of a custody contest arises. Parents who, only weeks before, had never done homework with their children may now demand to be present and involved every night. It is often the case, too, that one parent has been removed from the home and has very little contact with the children. Giving a Bricklin test after a duration of such a status quo probably accurately reflects the child's perceptions, but does not necessarily accurately assess the parents' respective parenting strengths. Again, call our offices to learn more and to learn what you can do to obtain the best outcome for your children.
Adult Intelligence Tests: The most common IQ tests administered today are the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R) and the Stanford Binet. Intelligence tests offer very little to the court when faced with a custody contest. Perhaps at best, they can serve as a baseline for how a given subject performs under testing conditions.
The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Revised): Applicable to children aged five to fifteen years of age.
Custody Quotient Test: Like the Bricklin test, and ASPECT, this test (developed in the late 1980s by Dr. Robert Gordon and Dr. Leon Peek-both in Dallas, Texas) was specifically intended to aide in custody evaluations. In fact, the test is designed to assess awards of sole and joint custody as well as assigning specific parental responsibilities and visitation schedules. The test can assess the knowledge and skills of the parents. There are even education programs for parents with low scores. The test is designed to be taken more than once-in six month intervals-so that parents may set improvement goals and monitor their progress. The Custody Quotient test produces ten evaluation scales and one validity scale. The validity scale, referred to as the "frankness" scale offers insight as to the extent to which the subject responded openly and honestly. The remaining ten scales are:
Emotional Needs: (10 questions) This scale measures a parent's ability to meet the child's emotional needs as well as the parent's own ability to recognize their own mistakes, admit them, and learn from them.
Physical Needs: (14 questions) This scale measures a parent's ability to care for hte child's physical needs.
No Danger: (11 questions) This scale evaluates the risk at which a parent may be of engaging in behavior that would result in a physical or emotional risk to the child.
Good Parenting: (13 questions) This scale measures a parent's knowledge of, attributes for , skills, abilities, and participation in rearing children.
Parental Assistance: (7 questions) This scales helps evaluate a parent's ability and willingness to appropriately use outside resources in rearing children.
Planning: (5 questions) This scale considers a parent's ability to plan for all of a child's needs.
Home Stability: (6 questions) This scale measures a parent's home stability.
Acts / Omissions: (5 questions) This scale measures parental misconduct that may impact the child.
Values: 6 (questions) This scale measures the parent's ability to convey the notions of right and wrong to the child and help the child conform to society's expectations in that regard.
Joint Custody: (9 questions) This scale measures the parent's respective likelihood of success were an award of joint custody to be made.
Rorschach Ink Blot Test: This is the one you've seen in the movies. Introduced in the 1930's it is still the most popular "projective" psychological test. Ten cards (five color, five black and white or black and white with gray shading) with freeform inkblots are shown to the subject who tells what he "sees" in each card. After this "free association" portion, the psychiatrist / tester goes back with the subject to review each inkblot explaining which part of the inkblot represented a given part of his association.
The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT): Another "projection" test. Out of 31 images, only ten are shown to the subject (some are only for men, some only for women, some only for children). The subject is asked to tell a story about the image. The idea is that the subject will reveal his personal apperception of the ambiguous image. By revealing his or her interpretation of the ambiguous image, the subject necessarily gives the examiner basic information on the subjects understanding of, and relationship to, male and female authority figures and his understanding of family relationships. The subject is asked to explain what happened prior to the picture being taken and what is happening now in the pictures -- even to say what the individuals depicted are feeling or thinking -- and how the story will end.
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