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.
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.