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An alternative method of dispute resolution in high risk families

18 April 1997


A confluence of changes in rules of divorce, legal precedents, and increased concern for child welfare over the last two decades have led to increasing involvement by mental health professionals in child custody disputes. This involvement usually entails an evaluation of the child(ren) and parents, along with a recommendation to the court by the professional regarding custody. Mediation has also been increasingly used by the courts to settle custody issues in place of the more adversarial model of litigation. To date, there is little empirical evidence supporting the efficacy of methods typically used by professionals in making recommendations to the court. There is limited data to support the use of mediations as an alternative to litigation. Both mediation and evaluation may be ineffective in those high conflict and often protracted custody cases involving sexual abuse allegations. In such cases, continued litigation and evaluations are often harmful to the child(ren) , disruptive to families, and costly for all parties involved. The research reported here will present a review of assessment methods currently used in resolving child custody disputes. It reviews the limited number of outcome studies on child custody disputes and methods used in litigation and mediation. It presents a study conducted at the Child Abuse Response and Evaluation (CARES) Unit of Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon. This project is intended to serve as an alternative approach to traditional custody evaluation methods by using a multidisciplinary team approach to resolve such high conflict protracted custody disputes where sex abuse allegations are involved.


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