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Clinical decision-making in child custody care cases: A policy-capturing approach

23 July 1999


Legal and societal standards for determining child custody have changed over the past century. Originally, children were deemed the property of the father; shortly thereafter, children were awarded as a consolation prize for the parent judged to be "not at fault" in the divorce (Stamps, Kunen, & Lawyer, 1996). Currently, children are regarded as valuable people whose best interests are an important element of custody determinations. The overwhelming number of custody cases have led the courts to refer the most complex cases to custody evaluators. These custody evaluators then make a recommendation to the judge, who has been shown to follow that recommendation in 60% of the cases (Kunin, Ebbesen, & Konecni, 1992). With the custody evaluator as an integral part of the custody process, the factors evaluators consider and the consistency of their judgments are important to explore. Factors used in determining child custody cases were examined. Trained and - untrained custody-evaluators were asked to make custody determinations on 80 case . vignettes. The decisions ,\,Vere evaluated using a Brunswikian policy-capturing approach. Results revealed that individual participants use different factors in determining custody. Trained and untrained participants' decision policies were not notably different from one another. Participants were unable to accurately identify the factors that influenced their decisions. Discussion involved notable cue topics, including financial stability, relationship quality, parenting skills, parental conflict, and GAL recommendation. Implications of these topics are discussed


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