The Los Angeles Times’ story about psychiatrist-child custody evaluator Joseph Kenan (“Child custody expert linked to lewd Web photos,” February 27, 2011) may be the most sensational example of the lack of ethics, morals, competency and credentials that have been found to exist in the divorce-custody evaluation practice niche.
The Times reported that Kenan was “thrown off one recent case and has been challenged in at least two others” after a client, of whom Kenan demanded tens of thousands of dollars for his evaluation, discovered explicit photos on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet, in which he allegedly promoted “illegal drug use, unprotected sex and male prostitution.”
Kenan, who is president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, is also under investigation by the Medical Board of California relative to at least four complaints by parents who hired him to do custody evaluations, according to The Times’ report.
It’s the most sensation, but it’s not the first. While it’s hard to say what action the California board might take against Kenan, the reports of medical and mental health practitioner licensing boards show that numerous custody evaluators, nationwide, have come under state investigation with resultant disciplinary actions for dishonesty, negligence and incompetence:
- May 14, 2009: Colorado clinical social worker Joanne Baum was placed on probation for one year, for writing a letter to the court that contained judgments concerning a person she had never met and published recommendations regarding child custody issues without having full knowledge of the facts necessary to make such recommendations.
- October 16, 2008: the California Board of Psychology revoked Diana M. Elliott’s license for failure to comply with the terms of an earlier disciplinary order against in which she was charged with gross negligence, dishonesty and repeated negligent acts related to her testimony in a divorce matter in which she reported the results of psychological tests according to her memory, which was later discovered to be faulty. Additionally, in response to a court order for her to send the original answer sheets to the father’s expert, she sent copies which were altered to make the father look more disturbed and mother look healthier than the actual answer sheets did.
- August 6, 2008: The Colorado State Board of Psychologist Examiners publicly admonished E. Robert Lacrosse for making custody recommendations without doing complete evaluations or interviewing all parties.
- June 21, 2008: The California Board of Psychology placed Janis Foote on five years probation for negligent acts and general unprofessional conduct. Foote provided a custody recommendation to the court after having interviewed her patient’s three children without the knowledge or consent of the other parent (who shared joint custody of the children) and made evaluations against the other parent without ever having met him or observed him directly.
- In March 2008, Ohio psychologist Meryl A. Orlando was suspended for 30 days and placed on 24 months of restricted practice, during which the court prohibited her from providing testimony in any cases involving custody or parental rights. Orlando was found to have engaged in negligent conduct by rendering a legal opinion regarding a father’s continued involvement with his children, despite having not observed the father’s interaction with the children and for recommending that the father be named legal custodian of the children, based in part on her opinion that the mother had sabotaged the childrens’ relationships with the father, among other things.
More cases here.
What’s worse is that, in some cases, the people doing the evaluations may lack the qualifications and/or credentials that entitle them to do court custody work. For instance, a story ran August 6, 2010 in the San Bernardino Sentinel about California custody evaluator Roy W. Bradbury, who admitted under oath that he was unqualified to perform the such evaluations, for which he was paid $10,000-$15,000 for each. The exposure of his lack of training and his fraudulent licensing (he was reportedly unable to pass the state exam for a psychologist’s license) has thrown into question the validity of the determinations he made in hundreds of divorce cases. There won’t be any disciplinary actions taken on Bradbury however as he committed suicide, after news of his fraud began to spread.
The bottom line is that anyone facing such an evaluation owes it to themself to research their appointed evaluator. Sources of such information are state medical (for psychiatrists), psychology or behavioral health (for counselors and social workers) licensing boards and the internet.