William G. Austin, Ph.D. ACCS dba

Austin Child Custody Services dba

(303) 670-6767 voice   (303) 217-8990 fax
Office: 710 Kipling, Ste. 306, Lakewood, CO 80215
William G. Austin, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
P.O. Box 3939
Evergreen, CO 80437
Email: wgaustinphd2@yahoo.com
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Child Custody Evaluation Approach and Protocol

Dr. Austin conducts forensic custodial evaluations concerning children and families as part of domestic relations proceedings. It is always in the role of a court-appointed evaluator. Parental Responsibility Evaluations and Child and Family Investigation Evaluations are conducted in all counties within Colorado pursuant to the statutes C.R.S. 14-10-127 (PRE) and C.R.S. 14-10-116.5 (CFI). In these evaluations Dr. Austin is the court's expert to conduct a neutral, impartial evaluation. Dr. Austin will consider conducting child custody evaluations in other states though they are subject to the out-of-state fee structure. Within Colorado, Dr. Austin does not approach the evaluation any differently when the court appointment is made under either the PRE or CFI statute. He follows the Colorado Supreme Court directive for the CFI role and also applicable professional standards for conducting child custody evaluations by the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts and the American Psychological Association. Within Colorado, Child & Family Investigations can be performed by individuals who are not licensed mental health professionals, which is unique to the law and state of Colorado. Dr. Austin's professional position is that only highly trained licensed mental health professionals possess the necessary training and expertise to conduct these evaluations and the standard of practice for all custodial forensic evaluations is established by the AFCC model standards, the APA custody guidelines, and the APA Code of Ethics (for psychologist evaluators). This position also is based on Dr. Austin's professional opinion that all custodial evaluations, including CFI investigations, result in expert opinions on mental health issues in light of the statutory best interest factors found in C.R.S. 14-124(1.5)(a). In addition, Dr. Austin's opinion is that expert opinion testimony in Colorado, according case law and rules of evidence, must be based on reliable and valid forensic techniques and methodology, appropriate application of sound methodology, and scientific or specialized knowledge. Dr. Austin believes that only licensed mental health professionals who are appropriately trained and experienced can produce competent expert testimony on matters of child custody or parental responsibilities. In light of expected changes to the Supreme Court Directive and CFI Standards, including the rule that psychologist CFI evaluators cannot conduct their own psychological testing, Dr. Austin will only accept a CFI appointment when the nature of the dispute merits a brief, focused evaluation on one particular issue (i.e., parenting time schedule, etc.) and is not a complex case (i.e., relocation, etc.) which was the original intent of the statute.

Procedures used in custodial evaluations and issues associated with conducting these evaluations are described in the Service Agreement webpage and link. Dr. Austin follows the child custody standards and guidelines published by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC, 2006/2007) and the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010). When Dr. Austin performs a custodial evaluation in the court-appointed role of Child & Family Investigator he follows the Directive from the Colorado Supreme Court and its published CFI Standards.

The evaluation protocol is based on a multi-method, multi-source approach in keeping with professional guidelines and standard of practice. There usually are at least two very long interviews with each parent in alternating sequence. Older children are interviewed. Younger children are seen in a parent-child interactional observation, usually in a home visit. Psychological testing is administered to the parents - a personality test and measures of coparenting and the parent-child relationships. Third parties, or collateral sources, are interviewed. Dr. Austin interviews neutral collaterals and professionals, and also family and friends who know the parents and children. Records and documents are critically reviewed. For relocation cases, Dr. Austin prefers to travel to the new community if it is feasible. The principal of data transparency governs the data collection and creation of a forensic record or file. All interviews are recorded electronically so the true data are preserved. Dr. Austin's forensic approach is scientifically-grounded to the extent possible in term so choice of procedures and use of research for data analysis and preparation of the report. The legal standard for admissibility of expert testimony requires a reliable forensic methodology for evaluation and for there to be a scientific foundation for the expert opinions.

In conducting custodial evaluations, Dr. Austin also applies the forensic models that he has developed for custody evaluators on how to use collateral sources (Austin, 2002), in relocation cases (Austin, 2000a; 2000b; 2008a; 2008b; 2010; Austin & Gould, 2006), in custody cases where there allegations of past intimate partner violence (Austin, 2000c; 2001; Austin, Thomas & Arnold, 2009; Austin, Drozd & Flens, 2009; 2010), and how to conduct a parental gatekeeping analysis (Austin, Flens & Kirkpatrick, 2010; Austin, Eidman, Gould & Kirkpatrick, 2006).

The custodial evaluations conducted by Dr. Austin usually involve highly complex cases involving issues such as relocation, allegations of intimate partner violence, and parent conflict so evaluations are comprehensive and thorough in the data gathering, analysis of the issues, integration of research and professional literature, and formulation of opinions for the court. The guiding principles for such evaluations are to be helpful to the court by being impartial, thorough, scientifically-grounded in procedure and analysis, and a practical problem solver in helping the court craft a best interest parenting plan.

Evaluations are conducted both on an hourly basis and with a flat fee arrangement. Within Colorado, when custodial evaluations are billed on an hourly basis, the rate is $250 with a flat fee of $3000 for the report. Reports usually are quite lengthy and very time intensive so most of the hours are not billed. When a case is determined to be highly complex, then it is usually billed on an hourly basis. Dr. Austin does consider requests for a reduced fee agreement on a flat fee basis in light of a party's financial situation. Dr. Austin conducts several pro bono evaluations each year.

References

American Psychological Association (2010). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in family law proceedings. American Psychologist,65(9), 863-867.

Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (2006, May). Model standards of practice for child custody evaluation. Madison, WI: Author; Martindale, D. M., Martin, L., Austin, W. G. et al. (2007). Model standards of practice for child custody evaluation. Family Court Review, 45(1), 70-91.

Austin, W. G. (2000a). A forensic psychology model of risk Assessment for child custody relocation law. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 186-201.

Austin, W. G. (2000b). Relocation law and the threshold of harm: integrating legal and behavioral perspectives. Family Law Quarterly, 34, 63-82.

Austin, W. G. (2000c). Assessing credibility in allegations of martial violence in the high-conflict child custody case. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 462-477.

Austin, W. G. (2001). Partner violence and risk assessment in child custody evaluations. Family Court Review, 39, 483-496.

Austin, W. G. (2002). Guidelines for utilizing collateral sources of information in child custody evaluations. Family Court Review, 40, 177-184.

Austin, W. G. (2010). Relocation and forensic mental health evaluation in Colorado: Issues involving very young children. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child's legal representative in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Bar Association (pp. C-1 - C-23). Denver: Colorado Bar Association.

Austin, W. G., Drozd, L. M., & Flens, J. R. (2009, November 7). Intimate Partner Violence, High Conflict, and Crafting Safe and Effective Parenting Plans. Workshop presented at Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Regional Training Conference: Interventions for Family Conflict: Stacking the Odds in Favor of Children. Reno, NV.

Austin, W. G., Drozd, L. M., & Flens, J. R. (2010, October 29). The Integrated Approach to the Assessment of Intimate Partner Violence in CCE. Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Ninth Symposium on Child Custody Evaluations, Cambridge, MA.

Austin, W. G., Eidman, M. Gould, J. W., Kirkpatrick, H. D. (2006, October 20). Application of Gatekeeping to Child Custody Evaluation. Workshop presented at Meeting of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Seventh International Symposium on Child Custody Evaluations, Atlanta, GA.

Austin, W. G., Flens, J. R., Kirkpatrick, H. D. (2010, June 3). Gatekeeping and Child Custody Evaluation: Theory, Measurement & Applications. Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, 47th Annual Conference, Denver, CO.

Austin, W. G., & Gould, J. W. (2006). Exploring three Functions in Child Custody Evaluation for the Relocation Case: Prediction, Investigation, and Making Recommendations for a Long-Distance Parenting Plan. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practices, 3(3/4), 65-110.

Austin, W. G., Thomas, S., & Arnold, A. (2009). Domestic violence: Assessment of the issue of intimate partner violence by the Child and Family Investigator. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child's legal representative in Colorado (pp. C17-1 - C17-27). Denver: Colorado Bar Association. Denver: Colorado Bar Association.

Supreme Court of Colorado (2008). Chief Justice Directive 04-08 (amended). Directive concerning court appointments of child and family investigators pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-116.5.

Home · Attorney Services · Relocation & Child Custody Evaluation · Domestic Violence · Parental Gatekeeping and Alienation

Evaluation Services · Forensic Methodology · Curriculum Vitae · Work Product Review Service · Brief-Focused PRE

Service Agreements · Parenting Coordinator/Decision Maker · Peer Consultation Services · Fees for Services

Colleague Case Consultation - Custody Evaluation