Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why a Mental Health Evaluation May Not Help Your Child Custody Battle With a Sociopath

When my attorney shared my ex's mental health evaluation with me, I could see she was happy. The psychiatrist pretty much made the case for her. Diagnosis? Antisocial Personality (sociopathy). The treatment recommendation? Supervised visitation with our son and at least a year of therapy before implementing unsupervised contact.

The psychologist sated that father needed to be able to “demonstrate basic skills in keeping (the child) safe, to grasp his importance as a role model, to manage conflict without violence, as well as model socially and culturally appropriate behaviors.” Father further needs to see a psychotherapist who can make ongoing recommendations for at least a year. He pointed out that these traits are not easily undone and it was going to take time to learn to behave appropriately and develop insight.

The sociopath did not produce any mental health experts to rebut this testimony. It was admitted into the record and the written report became evidence. The judge made no comments other than to ask how long the father needed supervision. As most of you know, the sociopath was awarded shared custody anyway and designated as the Primary Residential Parent (note: in my case, this designation is only relevant as it applies to the burden of proof needed for requesting a modification of the order. We are equally divided, in a true 50/50 arrangement).

Can I Prove He Is a Sociopath?

 I get a lot of questions about whether or not I think it is beneficial to ask for a sociopath to be evaluated in a custody situation. My answer is always that it depends. Clearly in my case, we wasted the money it cost to have him testify. However, it depends a lot on the judge who is hearing your case. My belief is that I would not go through this process again. At least some of the attorneys I have talked to agree. Here's why:
  • Judges are not mental health professionals. They do not understand what sociopathy is and they are not likely to get it with a one hour lecture. Sociopathy is fairly rare. Estimates have placed the occurrence rate somewhere between one and three percent of the population. It took us, their victims, years to understand what was going on and we lived with it.
  • You most likely NOT going to get a full diagnosis. Most evaluators are reluctant to diagnosis sociopathy without extensive evidence. Sociopaths are also skilled liars and manipulators. I am not sure that ex would have been diagnosed if it were not for one little thing: he was caught red handed lying to the evaluator.
I had put together a list of specific concerns that I had about the sociopath. I tried to be very fair so I never mentioned the abuse that I had suffered... only harmful behaviors done to my child (I was a little more naive back then and now I wished I had told everything). I also included a print out from the county courthouse of his 4 page arrest record and photographs of marks he left on our 3 year old sons back from hitting him.

When the evaluator asked him if he had a criminal record, he said no. When confronted with hard proof, the sociopath tried to back peddle and came clean. But the damage was done. The psychologist knew he was lying and trying to present himself in an overly favorable manner.
  • The evaluation can be used against you. If a judge orders you to undergo an evaluation also, it may shed a negative light on some aspects of your personality. I wasn't worried about this because I felt confident I would have no problem. It turned out to not be an issue because the ex didn't ask for me to be evaluated. However, it is a fact that all of us who have survived a sociopath's abuse have issues. It effected us profoundly.
We have endured terrorism and we have developed some type of coping mechanism for it. The mental fog, the way we question our perceptions of reality,and the way we become hyper-vigilant are all things that might cause a problem on a standardized test. Yes, these things are a normal part of experiencing trauma, but do you really want to have to argue that fact to a judge?

Also, even if we have recovered in time for an evaluation we often have PTSD symptoms just from the stress of litigation. On the other hand, the sociopath thrives on the conflict so he will have the upper hand while we are sweating, shaking, and want to vomit.
Better Strategy

What I think would be a better strategy is to paint a picture of sociopathic behaviors for the judge and then tie that together with how it impacts the child. For example, say the sociopath calls you nasty names and throws stuff at you during exchanges. This is bad for the child in two ways: emotional distress over the conflict and in being an inappropriate role model for managing anger. Excluding you on decision making, neglecting the children, dressing them inappropriately for school, and neglecting their supervision or hygiene are also other red flags.

Just be certain that you have good proof to back up your testimony. Assume right off the bat that no judge is going to believe you. Journals, recordings, photographs, and witnesses are the best way to do this. Keep a log and document EVERYTHING, then notate any evidence you have beside the incident. Research “Cluster B” personality traits to help you sort through what is relevant and what isn't.

I do think expert testimony is critical- but NOT for the purpose of proving that your ex is a sociopath. Instead think about hiring a psychologist to testify about how your child can be damaged by this type of behavior. Explain to the judge why the sociopath is harmful.

At The End of The Day

Evaluations? Not so helpful. Sociopathic behavior? Very relevant, if you can prove it.


  1. my ex wife was diagnosed with anti social behavior. I did not quite understand what this meant other than the fact that I needed her out of my life. She has custody of the children now but does such damage. I have had the children for 2 months now and she rarely calls or checks up on them. Today says that she has a place to live and wants them back. I am shocked that my lawyers have no interest in her diagnosis. I think that they think that I am calling her a name. I have the diagnosis from the doctor. For me it tells the entire truth, now that I know more about it. It is completely frustrating She is just pure evil.

  2. My heart goes out to you- there is so little understanding of Antisocial Personality Disorder- the most devastating of all personality disorders- and the closest thing to evil I have ever heard of. It is heart wrenching for the children too- as they deal with huge amounts of psychological abuse during critical developmental years! Best wishes to you in your court case. How old are your kids and how do you help them cope?

  3. I have trouble with my spouse. Spouse has BPD, ASPD, NPD traits in order of worst to least damaging. Splitting, emotional instability, extreme rages (scary when in same car regardless if driver or passenger), parental alienation, false accusations, resentful, lack of empathy, blames, never admits being at fault, stubborn, wasteful, vandalism, emotionally abusive, baiting, throws items, morbidly obese, alcohol issues, gathers Negative Advocates, interferes with my social contacts, verbally abusive, argues loudly, complete disregard for disturbing neighbors, gaslightning. Never hits with fists, but prefers to prevents leaving room by standing in the doorway. Never backs out of any argument. Not afraid of anyone. On occasions uses a knife to threat (maybe 3 times during 15 years of marriage). Has used a stick to push at rib cage. Domestic theft. Threatens with divorce. Wants geographical custody of children, wants half of all bank accounts. Wants half of my pension savings. Wants me to work, but does not work self.

    I am tired of all the lost energy and money, trying to co-exist under the same roof with a BPD spouse and child with ADHD. The parental alienation has created ODD/CD within the child. The emotional abuse and the verbal abuse is mind numbing. The constant threats of 911 calls to summon police as Negative advocates is torture. The risk of being thrown out of the apartment lease. Homelessness fear. I have left in the middle of night when spouse will not stop the yelling. When I go to my own room and close the door spouse or child will continue banging the door until I must leave the apartment to stop the loud disturbance in middle of night. The antisocial aspect is the disregard of 9 of the 10 commandments. Only infidelity is left unexplored. A online personality questionaire that I filled on behalf of my spouse resulted in de-personalisation disorder, but I am afraid that this might be reflection of myself over layered upon my answers. I have lost my health with liver disease, gallbladder gave up, unemployment. My spouse frequently says that I hit my child, even if I never hit my child. I once disciplined my child for vandalism to cars in the parking lot. The child got in trouble at school for pushing a girl. When confronted my child said to school personnel that I'm hitting. The CPS investigated, but was declared baseless. The involvement of CPS was stressful and caused me anxiety. My child has issues with violence and is frequently hitting me with fists into my back and torso and scratches my forearms. I have recently thought that I must leave this dysfunctional spouse and child to prevent tragedy. Must still wait 3 more weeks for naturalization interview and then 3 more weeks to receive passport. The last 2 months of waiting for interview while the application processing time went overdue was excruciating. I am considering returning to my home country to live with my mother or sister to feel safe, at least for a while. I would not like to abandon my child, but do not know how I can survive the BPD spouse without injuries or even arrest due to false accusations.