Unfortunately, the legal system has long received bad advice on this subject from some mental health professionals. Many psychologists who ought to know better will still say that it is ideal for a child to have a primary attachment figure and to be separated from that primary attachment figure only briefly until sufficient language skills have developed to allow the child to fully understand what is happening and that they will be reunited with their primary attachment figure after a more substantial visit with the secondary attachment figure. This is thought to foster healthy infant attachment, which we all agree is a predictor of psychological health at least later in childhood and possibly throughout life. Following this train of thought, secondary attachment figures in families of divorce (often fathers) would be limited to visitation of a few hours at a time for at least the first few years of a child's life. Since the secondary attachment figure would like to have intimate parent-child interactions, they would ideally visit the primary attachment figure's home and participate in rituals such as bathing or bedtime. In reality, of course, many divorced couples do not get along well enough for this to occur, and primary attachment figures often work or leave young children with extended family members for overnight visits even as the try to refuse such visitation to the other parent in contentious divorce cases. Attachment theory can thus become a weapon in family court that is used to estrange secondary attachment figures (again, often fathers) from their children during the early years of a child's life. This may impede the development of parent-child bonding, and there is a significant body of literature supporting the importance of involvement by both parents to positive developmental outcomes. More importantly, perhaps, this interpretation of attachment theory is not at all accurate.
John Bowlby, considered the father of modern attachment theory, did originally suggest the idea of monotropy (that the only significant infant attachment is to a single primary caregiver). However, Bowlby himself later softened on this idea, and both common sense and literature in the field of attachment now acknowledge that children are capable of multiple attachments even very early in life. In fact, the more positive attachments a child has, the better the implications for future psychological health and well-being. Further, the research is clear that the long-term involvement of both parents in a child's life leads to the best outcomes. The primary consideration in early overnight visitation should be the quality of the relationship between parent and child, not the age of the child. Unfortunately, some mental health experts continue to provide the courts with inaccurate information that perpetuates myths, to the detriment of those deemed secondary attachment figures and the children themselves.
Update: On 2/5/2020, Dr. Clifton Hudson and Dr. Jennifer Price, formerly of Hudson Forensic and currently Assistant Professor in the Marshall University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine and President of the West Virginia Psychological Association, addressed the West Virginia Legislature's House Committee on Senior, Children, and Family Issues on the modern social science literature pertaining to attachment and early shared parenting.
Forensic psychologists are in the business of providing well-educated and scientifically-informed opinions to assist with legal and administrative processes, but it is well-established that the quality of such opinions varies and that biasing influences can skew forensic psychological opinions. For example, real-world expert assessments of of psychopathy on the Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R) have been found to vary according to whether the defense or prosecution requested the evaluation, to a much greater extent than would be expected based on the inherent error built into the test. However, ethical providers should perform the same evaluation, regardless of who commissioned it. Well-formed forensic psychological opinions should follow logically from basic psychological principles and forensic research. They should represent the body of mainstream psychological literature rather than seeking out anomalous findings to support a particular point. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in General Electric Co. v. Joiner (1997), ipse dixit ("because I said so") testimony is inherently problematic.
If you have concerns about the quality or potential bias of forensic psychological opinions posited by an expert in one of your cases, Hudson Forensic will gladly offer you a free case consultation. We will discuss the case with you or even read over the other expert's report and provide preliminary feedback concerning the quality of the work and possible approaches to resolving any shortcomings that might be identified.
"Forensic psychology" sometimes conjures images of crime scene investigations or criminal profiling amongst the lay public. However, the reality of the discipline is considerably more mundane. Forensic psychology exists at the interface between psychology and law. It involves the use of psychological principles to assist with legal and administrative decisions. While the evaluation of things like competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, diminished capacity, and sex offender risk may most frequently be thought of in association with forensic psychology, the truth is that many other types of evaluations are most appropriately considered to be forensic. These include, but are not limited to, mental health evaluations of personal injury, disability, fitness for duty, competency to manage one's own affairs, parental fitness, factors related to the credibility of abuse allegations, and competency to testify. Forensic psychology sometimes applies traditional psychological knowledge and sometimes applies knowledge specific to the specialty area. It may sometimes follow a layperson's perception of common sense, but research sometimes proves that "common sense" to be dead wrong.
To appropriately understand forensic psychology, it is helpful to draw contrasts between traditional psychology and forensic psychology. Even mental health providers sometimes blur the lines between the two in ways that create ethical problems and malpractice exposure. Some distinctions between the two are as follows: