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The role of experience in child custody decision-making

24 July 2001


Psychologists are often called upon to render "expert" opinions regarding the well~being of children post-divorce. As the legal system has become overwhelmed with the number of custody cases, the most difficillt cases have been referred to custody evaluators. who may be psychologists, social workers, or Guardians ad Litem, among others. Of those cases in which a custody evaluator makes a recommendation to the court, judges have been found to
follow this recommendation in 60% of the cases (Kunin, Ebbesen, & Konecni, 1992). Given the weight placed on parenting evaluations, it is imperative that researchers better understand the factors used by evaluators in designating a parenting plan and how the role of expertise impacts the factors utilized and the decisions made. The current study utilized a policy-capturing methodology to compare the decision policies of experienced and inexperienced custody evaluators. Of those participants solicited, 10 experienced and 24 inexperienced participants completed packets of 80 Vignettes, which involved making a custody determination. Linear regression equations were then calculated for each participant. Results indicated that decision-making patterns in the custody arena.are similar to those discovered in other areas. Conclusions include that (a) participants believed they used more factors than they actually utilized, (b) decision policies of experienced and inexperienced participants were not significantly different from one another, and (c) experienced and inexperienced participants were equally poor at identifying whieh factors influenced their decision policy. The impact of vague outcome criteria and suggestions for future research are discussed.


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