Psychological Testing During A Santa Rosa Child Custody Dispute

November 20, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone
By Law Offices of James V. Sansone on November 20, 2012 8:00 AM |

Purestock_1574R-04293.jpgI recently read a post by New Mexico family law attorneys, Collins & Collins, P.C., which discussed what happens when a custody evaluation is ordered in a child custody dispute. Custody evaluations are generally not ordered unless the custody dispute is highly contested and there are serious allegations of parental unfitness, such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, mental unfitness or instability, or interpersonal violence such as child maltreatment or intimate partner violence. The last two cases I litigated where custody evaluations were ordered dealt with child maltreatment and mental instability. These type of cases take a very long time and are very expensive (legal fees and expert fees).

Generally, a full custody evaluation includes some or all of the following: a parental history survey; personal interviews with the parents and sometimes the children; psychological testing of both parents and sometimes the children; observed parent/child interactions; collateral contact with significant figures in the children's lives, like stepparents and therapists; and, follow-up interviews. The custody evaluation, including psychological testing, is geared toward achieving the best interests of the child.

During the psychological testing phase, the evaluator may administer some or all of the following psychological or personality tests:

Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory

The Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory ("the MMPI") consists of 567 questions, which require the test-taker to "agree" or "disagree" with many statements. The MMPI is considered almost impossible, if not completely impossible, for an ordinary person to "cheat" on. Typically, if a person tries to cheat, they will more than likely score poorly.

Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory

The Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory ("the MCMI") is somewhat similar to the MMPI. The test includes 175 true-false questions. The MCMI differs from other personality tests in that it is based on theory and is organized according to a multiaxial format. The test is intended to help identify underlying personality disorders, or traits, and then design an appropriate treatment programs.


The Rorshach Test, which is also known as the inkblot test, is a test where a person's perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretations or complex algorithms. The test is administered in a very rigid way with a particular format to minimize variances in the results. The Rorshach inkblots are supposed to remain secret, so that a subject cannot prepare answers or attempt to affect the results in some way. While the inkblots are supposed to remain secret, I have seen cases where a person can easily prepare for this type of test. Further, I have spoke with local experts who hold the opinion that this test can create a lot of "false positives" for personality disorders based on what we are exposed to today on TV and violent video games.

Rotter Incomplete Sentence Blank

The Rotter Incomplete Sentence Blank is a psychological test that comes in different forms for different age groups. It contains 40 sentences that are to be completed in 20 minutes. The sentences are usually only 1-2 words and the subject is then asked to complete the sentence. By grouping and evaluating the subject's responses, the evaluator can make determinations about the subject's psychological state of mind.

Custody evaluations will have a significant effect on the court's ultimate decision on custody. Anyone involved in a custody dispute should consult with an experienced family law attorney. The Law Offices of James V. Sansone offers a full range of family law legal services including divorce, paternity, child custody and visitation matters, child support, spousal support, alimony, domestic violence, division of property, grandparent visitation, custody, and has experience with termination of parental rights proceedings. We are located in Santa Rosa, California and serve clients throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County, and Lake County, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville.