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PROGRESS IN ARIZONA REGARDING CUSTODY EVALUATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

There have been some recent very substantial developments in the Arizona family court regarding mental health assessments that do not rise to the level of a full (and costly) custody evalution. Due to Court cut backs, Parenting Conferences through Conciliation Services are no longer available. Such are being outsourced to private mental health providers. I do not have a huge problem with this since at least some of the the Conciliation Services reports seemed to provide recommendations without sufficient facts and input. This sometimes led to additional litigation which cost more than a real custody evaluation would have cost in the first place.

Many of the mental health providers on the roster are very competant and in my opinion generally provide more valid recommendations than Conciliation Services did. The private mental health providers can do Parenting Conference reports, however, these are now limited to just "considerations". I have a problem with this as I think that a Judge can misinterpret "considerations" as recommendations. To me, Parenting Conferences now have very limited utility, other than maybe providing for an interview of the minor children. Other options include LimitedFamily Assessments and Parenting Consultations. Limited Family Assessments can provide for recommendations, but will be more tailor made to the specific facts, thus eliminating some of the costs of a full custody evaluation. For example, most psychologists conduct MMPI examinations when conducting full custody evaluations. However, I have seen few evaluators or Courts pay much attention to MMPI examination impressions. Most Limited Family Assessments will probably eliminate the MMPI examination.

Much of these changes have resulted from new legislation whereby complaints against a mental health provider appointed by the Court must go through the judge. The judge will decide if the complaint has merit. If the judge does not make such determination, the complaint stops there and is not forwarded to the supervisory board. Mental health professionals thus no longer need to provide super comprehensive evaluations to cover their b*tt to avoid the possiblity of a complaint. In more involved cases, Limited Family Assessments will likely cover the major issues that would be addressed in a custody evaluation report minus the fluff (such as personal history chronologies that have little relevance). In some cases, a full custody evaluation may be recommended by the mental health provider. However, it appears that major steps have been taken to provide these services at a more reasonable cost, and without the necessity of 90 page custody evaluation reports.

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