By Mary Johanna McCurley & Kathryn J. Murphy (Texas)


The family law practitioner is confronted with the results of psychological testing with increasing frequency. The tests are generally interpreted as establishing the mental health and parenting skills of a parent.

Psychological testing became popular during World War II, and clinical psychologists have been toting test kits ever since.  As this article illustrates, psychological tests have a potentially valuable role to play in the assessment of the mental health of parents and of children.  However, more problematic is the application of psychological testing to the resolution of custody issues.  Because all psychological tests are eventually filtered through the psychologist’s interpretation, the tests can be no better or worse than the interpretation itself.

This article supports the continued development, administration and use of psychological testing in custody disputes, but it also sends a warning to attorneys to not always have faith that these tests are valid, fair, or even constitutionally appropriate.  As David Viscount, in his book, The Making of a Psychiatrist, observes, “Mental health professionals love their interpretations, they are gifts that they give themselves.”

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Mary Johanna McCurley is with the firm of McCurley, Orsinger, McCurley, Nelson & Downing in Dallas, Texas. She received her B.A. degree from Centenary College of Louisiana and a J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law. Mrs. McCurley has been a frequent local and national lecturer on family law matters, including stress management.

Kathryn J. Murphy is a partner in the law firm of Goranson, Bain, Larsen, Greenwald, Maultsby & Murphy, PLLC. Kathryn is skilled in answering one of the most important concerns clients have about divorce: seeing an efficient, satisfactory end to the process. She is also the primary researcher and writer of the book, Protecting Your Assets from a Texas Divorce, published in 2005.

Reprint with permission.