Use of the MMPI-2 in Child Custody Examinations

The three scales, 3-Hy, 4-Pd, and 6-Pa are consistently the most frequent primary elevations in Child Custody litigant profiles (Bathurst, Gottfried, & Gottfried,1997; Caldwell, 2003). These yield the three most frequent litigant codes, 34, 36, and 46; as noted below, we have chosen two of these, a 36 profile and a 46 profile, as examples. Our new adaptation supplement illuminates how the most central theme of the 34/43 code comes to be a sensitivity to rejection; for 36 it is a sensitivity to humiliation; and for 46 it is an often strong reactivity to unfairness: consider how much rejection, humiliation, and unfairness characterize the emotions that drive custody litigation. For example, respectively, "I have been thrown aside for someone else;" "he/she now tells people including our best friends such awful things about me;" "how he/she and that lawyer have dealt with this divorce is absolutely unfair."


We have developed an entirely separate report for evaluating custody litigating parents, the Caldwell Report Custody Report. For these examinations there are two separate reports, first our longstanding narrative report, which now includes the analysis of Adaptation and Attachment, and secondly the Custody Report. The narrative report is primarily an interpersonal analysis of the person’s symptoms, conflicts, struggles, and - via the supplement - patterns of adaptation. The focus of the Custody Report is interpersonal: how does the person interact with others, and what are the person’s emotional reactions that may potentially impact family relations and in particular a child’s development? The Custody Report provides a paragraph on each of 26 variables: four pertain to validity; eight are mainly emotional reactivities that affect their connections with and impact on others; six focus on important aspects of role modeling; five assess various control issues; and the last three are specifically parent-child focused. These 26 include the "big five" as they are reflected in the MMPI-2: quality of bonding, anger control, antisocial potential, vulnerability to chemical dependence, and potential for alienation of affection.


Scores on the 26 variables are reported by T-scores. These are based on the MMPI-2 normative sample (with the usual mean of 50, Standard Deviation of 10). Roger Greene, Ph.D., has accumulated a sample of 1104 MMPI-2 protocols of child custody litigating parents; we are grateful to him to be able to apply them here. These protocols were contributed to him by practitioners who regularly use the MMPI-2. The sample is not representative of the general population, but the clinicians’ circumstances were varied and the profiles are diverse. In any case, a profile plotting of the mean scores for the two groups, the 550 males and 554 females, produces a curve nearly identical to that of Bathurst, Gottfried, & Gottfried (1997). This suggests that both samples are effectively drawn from the same general litigant pool.


Having the two contrasting samples enables us to make comparisons in the text between a person’s normative sample T-score versus the person’s custody sample T-score. This is especially important when the two T-scores are sufficiently different to lead to different conclusions. For example, there may be a comment in the report that the person is close to one full standard deviation elevated in the direction of conscious and deliberate defensiveness as compared to the normal subjects but about average for custody litigants (whose baseline of deliberate self-favorableness is thus measurably much higher than that of the normals). For a detailed, peer reviewed analysis of these reports see Caldwell (2003). This article includes a discussion of validity issues from several perspectives (our clients are encouraged to contact us for a copy if this article is not otherwise available).






Bathurst, K., Gottfried, A. W., & Gottfried, A. E. (1997), Normative data for the MMPI-2 in child custody litigation. Psychological Assessment, 9, 205-211.


Caldwell, A. B. (2003). How can the MMPI-2 help child custody examiners? Journal of Child Custody, 2, 83-117.