Divorce at Altitude: A Podcast on Colorado Family Law

A Public Health Crisis for Parental Responsibility Evaluations with Dr. Kathleen McNamara | Episode 91

March 10, 2022 Ryan Kalamaya & Amy Goscha
Divorce at Altitude: A Podcast on Colorado Family Law
A Public Health Crisis for Parental Responsibility Evaluations with Dr. Kathleen McNamara | Episode 91
Show Notes Transcript

When there are highly contentious cases involving the allocation of parental responsibilities, the court may need to appoint an expert to conduct an investigation. That’s where today’s guest comes in. Dr. Kathleen McNamara is a licensed psychologist and Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) in Fort Collins, Colorado.

As the name suggests, a PRE is a licensed individual who helps the court allocate parental responsibilities between parents in a way that will best meet the immediate and future needs of any children involved. As a PRE, Dr. McNamara plays a crucial role in helping parents develop effective methods for co-parent communication and coordination but, as you’ll discover in today’s episode, there are currently a number of challenges facing PREs across the country, including Colorado.

Listen in as Dr. McNamara shares her insights with Amy Goscha into what is being referred to as a nationwide health crisis as the number of evaluators dwindles and how she believes we can begin to address some of the complex issues facing PREs, emphasizing the importance of continued education and greater protection, and more.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • An introduction to Dr. McNamara and her private practice.
  • Her involvement with Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and other groups.
  • Defining Parental Responsibility Evaluation (PRE) and Dr. McNamara’s responsibilities.
  • The prerequisites for becoming a Parental Responsibility Evaluator.
  • Why Dr. McNamara believes that appointing a PRE should be the last resort.
  • Understanding the nuances of PREs and the ongoing training that is required.
  • The role that complete transparency and being open to scrutiny plays for PREs.
  • Some of the troubling trends taking place in the field, not just in Colorado but nationwide.
  • Why Dr. McNamara sees House Bill 21-1228 as a tipping point for many PREs.
  • The varying levels of experience among the 37 PREs left in Colorado.
  • Other challenges faced by evaluators in the field, including sub-standard work.
  • Cases when a child and family investigator (CFI) or a PRE is required.
  • Dr. McNamara’s work on the Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation.
  • What she believes is necessary to encourage more PREs to join the field, including more research and greater protection.
  • Advice for family lawyers for navigating evaluations: educate yourself on the alternatives.
  • How Dr. McNamara believes we can begin to address the complex issues facing PREs.
  • Her advice for parents: minimize conflict and maximize relationships for your children.

What is Divorce at Altitude? 

Ryan Kalamaya and Amy Goscha provide tips and recommendations on issues related to divorce, separation, and co-parenting in Colorado. Ryan and Amy are the founding partners of an innovative and ambitious law firm, Kalamaya | Goscha, that pushes the boundaries to discover new frontiers in family law, personal injuries, and criminal defense in Colorado. 

If you have additional questions or would like to speak to one of our attorneys, give us a call at 970-429-5784 or email us at info@kalamaya.law.

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DISCLAIMER: THE COMMENTARY AND OPINIONS ON THIS PODCAST IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT AND INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES AND NOT FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY IN YOUR STATE OR AREA TO OBTAIN LEGAL ADVICE ON ANY OF THESE ISSUES.

Ryan Kalamaya (3s):
Hey everyone. I'm Ryan Kalamaya and

Amy Goscha (6s):
Amy. Goscha

Ryan Kalamaya (8s):
Welcome to the Divorce at Altitude, a podcast on Colorado family law.

Amy Goscha (13s):
It's not easy. It really sucks. Trust me. I know besides being an experienced divorce attorney, I'm also a divorce

Ryan Kalamaya (20s):
Clients, Whether you are someone considering divorce or a fellow family law attorney listening for weekly tips and insight into topics related to divorce, parenting, and separation in Colorado.

Amy Goscha (36s):
Welcome back to another episode of Divorce at Altitude I'm Amy Goscha. And I have the pleasure of having Dr. Kate McNamara on with me today. How are you doing Dr. McNamara?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (47s):
Thanks for having me.

Amy Goscha (48s):
I really appreciate you coming on today. We have some really interesting topics. We're talking about your a parental responsibility or evaluator, is that correct? That's correct. You've done this work for many years. How many years have you been,

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (1m 3s):
I've been doing parental responsibility evaluations for approximately 35 years by approximately. I mean, as of April, it will be 35 years.

Amy Goscha (1m 14s):
And you also though are very active. What are some other things that you do kind of on a nationwide level? Don't you draft certain model rules?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (1m 23s):
So for many years I've been very involved in various groups, really, but most predominantly be association of family and conciliation courts. I am on the board of directors for that association. I've been involved in the Colorado chapter of that association, but also local groups, best practices teams, and I belong to the interdisciplinary committees and I'm on the standing issues committee, the Supreme court standing issues committee that looks at a lot of issues affecting the court system and family law. I've always been very interested in the broader profession and how we operate as a system and how that affects children and families.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (2m 6s):
In addition to my daily work in the office with children and families.

Amy Goscha (2m 11s):
Right? So can you just explain to our audience for those that don't know what is a parental responsibility evaluator?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (2m 19s):
So a parental responsibilities evaluator is appointed under a specific statute and is charged with conducting an evaluation of a family who is involved in the litigation process. There are some issues in dispute and they are before the court, the evaluator must meet certain kinds of qualifications and must conduct a certain kind of process to understand the family and investigate and evaluate the issues that are in dispute. And to put all of those issues together into a coherent hole for the court evaluators consult with lots of different sources of information.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (3m 2s):
They review documents and talk to people outside the family, and they interview family members. There's methods for how they go about doing things. And they also rely on social science and psychological literature to inform the opinions that they render about the family, functioning, the strengths and weaknesses that best fit, and they offer recommendations. They have no authority except to offer recommendations. And that appears in their final report.

Amy Goscha (3m 33s):
I know those evaluations are very complex, but what, in order to be a parental responsibilities evaluator, what are the prerequisites for you to be able to do that kind of evaluation

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (3m 45s):
In the state of Colorado? You must be a licensed mental health professional, which differs from say a child and family investigator, which does not have that same requirement. That is sort of the key requirement is a licensed mental health professional, but parental responsibilities, evaluators message here to other kinds of guidelines and standards of care to responsibly carry out their duties.

Amy Goscha (4m 12s):
Yeah. And as an attorney, a lot of times I see it's easy for us to say, okay, if there's not, you know, an agreement on parenting time or decision-making, then we need to, you know, we need to appoint a period or a CFI. However, it seems like not just in Colorado, but around the nation, things are changing within the field. Is that correct? Dr. McNamara?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (4m 36s):
I think this question of, when do you appoint a CFI? When do you appoint a Peary? When do you do something else is very case specific. Many, many families do not need to go through an investigation or an evaluation. There are alternatives that can be highly effective in helping parents reach agreements, find common ground. Maybe they don't a hundred percent like what they finally agree to, but they come to an agreement and there are services and professionals. In fact, I do some of that kind of work. It is a much more positive way to go about resolving issues.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (5m 19s):
Then there is this very small percentage. It's really not the majority of people by any stretch. It's a small percentage of people who are so gridlocked in their concerns in their disputes or the issues are so complex. The concerns are so great that somebody needs to go in and take a look, conduct an investigation, conducted evaluation and report back to the court so that the court has that assistance in making final determinations regarding the best interest of the child. That's where we come in. We are sort of way down the line, right? There are other things, families, many families do, many families would never even dream entering into something like this.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (6m 7s):
And they don't, but there is a small percentage who do.

Amy Goscha (6m 10s):
Yeah. And I just mentioned, I think from the attorney perspective, it seems to be okay if we can't reach an agreement, then we automatically need to hire an expert, but that's not the case. Like there's many things that you need to look at, like the specifics of the case. And can you resolve it in another way before, like you said, you get to the appointment of, of hearing.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (6m 32s):
I completely agree with you on that. I actually think it should be the last option. I mean, do that after everything else has failed, because parties will be much happier with the outcome when they've reached it themselves, they know their families and their children the best. They may not be aware of the kinds of services that are available that could be addressed outside the legal arena, without a judge being involved, they can enact themselves. So the money is so much better spent when you address the issues. No, family's perfect. Whatever issues are going on that have gotten them to this point, a lot of times, education and intervention, and it's not forever, but can really address those issues and help the family move on in their transition to abide nuclear or family, a two homepage.

Amy Goscha (7m 27s):
Right. And a lot of clients ask me, they say, okay, so this evaluator is going to come in, but when can we start resolving the problem? And so a lot of the tools that even a, you might recommend, I can put those in place ahead of time, such as, you know, therapy, a parenting coach integration therapy, which might be something that you, as an evaluator would recommend fixed, you know, like just because you're having an evaluator come in.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (7m 52s):
Yes. And I absolutely think that seasoned family, law attorneys who have been through many of these different kinds of services are very well-informed about, here's what an evaluator is very likely to say about this. So how about we just go ahead and implement some of the strategies that might help resolve the issue and avert the need for it altogether. Right. And I do think that we see that much more with very experienced attorneys who really understand the big picture with respect to family psychology and family disputes and family conflict.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (8m 33s):
I think sometimes when you're saying those attorneys who want to immediately go to a CFI or Pirie, they don't necessarily have as many tools in their toolbox. They don't know what else really to do. Right. We've tried mediation and that hasn't worked then, okay, we're off to the evaluation. There actually are a number of other things you could do.

Amy Goscha (8m 53s):
Exactly. And I do find that even after doing this for years, it's easy to just implement all of those tools as well. But sometimes I think attorneys say, okay, we can't, like you said, if you are successful in mediation, then you automatically need to go to an evaluator, but there's so many other things that you can do to essentially avoid that, which I think is really helpful for families. So you mentioned doc Dr. McNamara, that the, I mean, the piri evaluation is very complex. Does it take years to be able to understand the nuances of what you're dealing with, how to make certain recommendations? Do you have any comments regarding that?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (9m 33s):
I think to become really good at parenting evaluations. I do think it takes years. I think it takes years. I think it takes a lot of training, ongoing training. I think it takes a lot of consultation. I think it takes a lot of experience. You have to have certain kinds of qualities that you bring to the role. And they're sort of a unique set of qualities. They're sort of counter-intuitive qualities. You have to be able to be very empathetic to families who are very angry and entrenched in conflict, but at the same time, very objective and very oriented on the facts and what has happened and who is doing what to whom and those combination of skills don't have to be cultivated.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (10m 20s):
It takes practice and it takes consultation. And I do think it takes a long time to become highly competent at that, that said with adequate base training, people can learn these skills and learn this information is just a lot. The body of knowledge is vast and it takes time to become knowledgeable about all of the areas that we are expected to know about.

Amy Goscha (10m 46s):
Right. And then I'll just mention briefly. So once you complete a period report, can your report be, can someone issue like a review of your report?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (10m 58s):
Oh, absolutely. One of the things about being a CFI or being an apiary is you work in a spotlight, your work needs to be transparent. Nothing's off the record. Attorneys can just ask for your record and get it. It's not like you have to jump through any hoops that the attorneys are entitled to. The record, the attorneys can have work product reviewers, review your file, review your records, look at everything you did can question what you did or challenge what you did. So that is part of the territory. If you're going to do this kind of work that goes with the territory.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (11m 41s):
And of course, you're also open to the scrutiny of the parties, scrutiny of the attorneys scrutiny of the cross examination process. So it's a role where you're highly scrutinized.

Amy Goscha (11m 51s):
Right? Well, let's talk, I mean, I'm curious as to what you're seeing happening nationwide within this area, what is going on in other states, not just in Colorado regarding these evaluations and changes in standards?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (12m 7s):
Well, one of the biggest issues is just the dwindling pool of evaluators. And this is a national problem. People are leaving the practice. People don't want to do the work anymore for a variety of reasons. People are retiring. They're aging out evaluations really came on strong in the 1980s and in the eighties and nineties and the aughts evaluations were widely used. It's become so expensive. It's become so daunting for the evaluators. It's become a target of a lot of suspicion and even derision that people don't want to do the work.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (12m 55s):
And the practice is sort of under siege, at least from the perspective of many evaluators. So we have this problem of people are leaving and newcomers are not coming in. So that's leaving a dearth. The pool in Colorado is down to about 37 peer reason. I don't know what that's down from because we only recently began a roster. So that's one of the problems in terms of looking at the raw numbers as well, compared to what we don't know, what the numbers were, but across the country, the dwindling pool is being talked about in many, many areas of the practice.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (13m 39s):
And there is great concern. Some experts refer to it as a national health crisis because of the poor outcomes associated with some of the issues that we evaluate. And when somebody can't look at them or can't, or you don't have a competent person looking at those issues, those risks are not mitigated. And the court has to make decisions without the benefit of a neutral, impartial, competent evaluator, looking at all of those matters. So that's happening in Colorado. There is a lot of talk about where are the Pieris, where are they all going? Why aren't they doing the work anymore? And it's part of a trend that is happening elsewhere.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (14m 22s):
We're not alone.

Amy Goscha (14m 24s):
So we've talked a lot about, you know, and I've reviewed house bill 21, 1 2, 2 8. Do you think that this change nationwide has come before even this bill came about in Colorado? Or do you think that just became a hot topic where certain periods decided that it was time if they were going to still practice or not?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (14m 47s):
I think the bill in Colorado, my opinion is that the bill was a tipping point for many evaluators who were already thinking about whether they wanted to continue to do this work. Yeah, that's what I was wondering. Yeah. I think it was a tipping point and the bill itself, the key key points in the bill are that there will be an eligibility roster, a statewide eligibility roster. I don't, I'm not hearing from Pieris that anybody really has problem with that. It establishes requirements for continuing education in domestic violence and child abuse, specifically child sexual abuse.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (15m 28s):
I don't think people really have a problem with that either and many PRS already have that training or have that training it just up the oversight of periods with the new CJDS. And so why was it a tipping point is a question I'm often asked is why are periods reacting the way they are to that bill? And I think the answer to that is the way the bill came about was very concerning to PRS. The lack of their involvement as stakeholders in the process was a great concern.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (16m 8s):
The legislative declaration language was perceived by periods to be very one-sided and misleading and leaves out a lot of other relevant information that should be included in a piece of legislation of this kind. It was obviously coming from domestic violence advocates for victims of domestic violence. So that was fine. But this oversight, when you consider it in light of what periods are already experiencing, really created a bad taste in their mouth.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (16m 48s):
So we're already facing concerns about personal safety. We're already dealing with high levels of scrutiny. We're already dealing with escalating standards of practice with extremely high pressures to keep costs down and to do things quicker. We have pressures to keep up with the research and keep up with specialized areas of knowledge and to keep track of all the evolving laws and yet individuals who can practice. It's pretty broad. I think from the Pieris point of view, it was really, this is the legislation we're focusing on when there is so much more that we think would be helpful to families improvements in legislation that would be helpful to families.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (17m 37s):
It just seemed very redundant with what already exists. We're already highly regulated. So anyway, I think the impact of that bill was contextual. It was how it came up when came up, what else is going on in the field as we're presented with that? Who brought it up? I think those are the things that really have kind of tipped the scales for a lot of a lot of people.

Amy Goscha (18m 2s):
Yeah. You and I had discussed that right now on the roster that we have about 37 periods on that roster. And within those periods, is there a lot of variants and practice level experience? Are you seeing that among people

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (18m 20s):
I'm interested in the list, I've looked at the list and there are certainly some very experienced evaluators on the list and highly qualified evaluators on the list. I'll also note and many of them are getting close to retirement age, so they won't be on the list for very long, for a great length of time. And then there are some new commerce. Now the thing with newcomers is that they obviously have training or they can't be eligible. They have a mental health degree. They've met the requirements by statute that does not mean that they necessarily have the mentorship, the consultation supervision, that they are knowledgeable in all of those areas.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (19m 3s):
Now they may become that, but it takes time. And that doesn't just happen. I seen a lot of families. You need to really, you need way more than this than the CE minimal requirements. So it concerns me that we have a small number for the entire state of Colorado and that we have this uneven level of these are not all highly qualified people in my opinion. So it's an issue for the state.

Amy Goscha (19m 34s):
And let's just talk about some of those challenges. I mean, we're seeing in Colorado that, you know, we have not as many people on the roster, what are some other challenges and conundrums that you're finding with just where things are going nationwide, but also in Colorado?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (19m 50s):
Well, the challenges in the field itself are broad and they, some of these are real conundrums. You know, if you, if you solve one problem, you create another problem. And so what do you do? One of the problems in this field is there are many, many poor quality work products there are, and that doesn't help anybody doesn't help the families. It doesn't help the profession. It's a problem. And that needs to be addressed. How do we ensure that the quality of every work product is adequate? We don't have a good system for that.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (20m 31s):
We don't have a good system. So the system is, it goes to the, the attorneys, the attorneys can hire work reviewers there's cross-examination the, the PRA has to defend their work in court. All of that requires money that a family may or may not have really get very expensive. And it also requires that people who are looking at the work are qualified to judge it. And that's not a real clean thing either. Right? So what do we do about substandard work, where it may pass muster in terms of meeting all the statutory requirements, but it's still way off in terms of a really well conducted evaluation.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (21m 24s):
This is rooted in the lack of specialized training that many PRS have when they're doing this work, they simply have not either been educated to begin with, or have not sought the specialized education and are just not up to speed. It's hard to find a mentor. It's hard to find somebody to consult with or supervise your work or supervise you for the first year. When I did evaluations to begin with, I was supervised four years before I did any individual evaluations on my own. And that was back in the day where we have very little regulation, but today people can't even find a supervisor. And why is that?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (22m 5s):
Because the supervisor doesn't want to take on the liability for the supervisee's work. This is such a high risk practice to begin with that. I need to think about my own liability, not taking on your liability. So it's hard to find someone who will do that. And then another sort of conundrum in the field is this rising expectation. There are so many things we need to stay abreast of all the literature and all of the different points of views on particular issues. At the same time, those pressures to get in, be efficient, be minimally intrusive, keep the costs down, make this happen fast because the longer we drag this out, the harder that is on kids, those things just don't square.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (22m 57s):
They just don't square. We cannot do it in depth evaluation and consider everything and do it quickly and do it when there is such a shortage and such a demand. I mean, even if you just take on a few extra cases, because phone is constantly ringing, you end up so behind, because you never know when someone comes in the door, how complicated the case is going to be exactly 90 days may be great for one family, but it's going to be nowhere near enough for another family. Right? And then the final thing I would say is The Colorado. We have this two tiered system. It raises an ethical conundrum.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (23m 38s):
People who can afford the most experienced, most qualified , who can do the, to do a very thorough job. And they can have confidence that this is a reliable set of findings and recommendations. That is a higher level of service and almost justice for those folks compared to a more modest means, family who simply cannot afford the same level of evaluation. And that is a wicked problem. How do we solve that problem by, and you have many colleagues who, who think we should not have that two tiered system.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (24m 24s):
Everybody should be entitled to a PRD, but they should be able to have the, the comprehensive evaluation. And we're putting things unfairly on the backs of CFIs who are not qualified, who don't even have to have mental health degrees, and don't have to have any degree. There's no educational requirements.

Amy Goscha (24m 42s):
Well, and you know, when we saw the changes, when, you know, there was, when it was just CFI, then Pirie, I mean, the point of the CFI was to look at very specific situations, not just the generalized allocation of parental responsibility matters, but it's morphed into that. You know, cause people can't afford, not everyone can afford a Peary, but one thing that when you're saying, you know, everyone can have a right to appear easy. My thought is, where does the funding come and where do we get the abled people that can do those evaluations? So it is a conundrum

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (25m 18s):
Who's going to pay for it. Yeah. And, and I think we all know that for many families of focused issue is all they need. And it's fine. I mean, I think the CFI model is beautiful for those cases. I agree exactly what it's designed to do, and it's very helpful. The problem is, and we all see it. CFIs are handling relocation cases just by definition, a relocation case involves competing best interests for children. So that's a complex case right there when you've got a relocation. And then when you add in other kinds of concerns about quality of parenting or substance use or children with special needs, or whether the parents support each other with their co-parenting relationship is like all of these other things start coming into play.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (26m 12s):
That's a CFI. And we all see those CFIs. Think about that from the CFIs perspective, they're trying to be healthy coming into this work to help children and families and they're giving away their time and many are in over their heads. And they might in order to keep it within scope, write a very brief report, or they might write a very lengthy report, but it's not very well integrated and coherent, and it's not really based on the best. So they're just wicked problems with how do we resolve the economic issues and the demand for services. So, yeah.

Amy Goscha (26m 53s):
Well, let's talk about your work with AFCC and the model standards. Can you tell me what is about to be issued in what work you've done on the model standards for practice of child custody evaluation?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (27m 6s):
So in 2019, then president of AFC was Matthew Sullivan, a psychologist in California. He appointed a task force and I believe there are 16 of us on this task force from all around the country and including people outside the country. We have someone from Canada on our task force. We have a couple of people from Canada and this task force was charged with looking at the 2006 model standards for the practice of child custody evaluation and revising them. So we were also asked to be very mindful of the realities facing the field.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (27m 52s):
Today, we have this dwindling pool of evaluators. You want high standards, but we do not want them so high that we just ward off anybody who might be interested because the expectations are so high. So we've been grappling for two years now, meeting very regularly, these long zoom meetings talking about all of these issues and the new revisions are out for public comment there on the AFCC website. And anybody can go and just look at the call for comments and you can read them. You can comment on them. We invite people to do that.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (28m 33s):
We are proposing a name change, no more child custody, evaluation, we're proposing guidelines for parenting evaluations. We are hopeful that the guidelines provide a roadmap for what people must do in order to do an adequate job. And we've really tried to spell it out. They're very detailed guidelines, and we've tried to include all of the rationale for every guideline. My takeaway from the whole experience, we're not finished, we're still taking in feedback, but there is no way around the fact that if you're going to do this work well, you have to know a lot.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (29m 13s):
And it's a little breathtaking how much evaluators need to be well-informed about. And there's just no way around that. So that's a bit about that. And I expect that those guidelines will be out for approval in the next couple of months. I think, I think they will be official shortly and published probably early next year.

Amy Goscha (29m 36s):
That's going to be a really great tool for people who are getting into this field to make sure that they go through those, because if they're guidelines, does it also give people guidance as to not only what areas they need to know, but specific courses they can take or does that for us,

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (29m 58s):
There is quite a bit of revision to the areas of knowledge and qualifications. And so commensurate will that with, that will be a lot of what do we do about providing the education in a cost-effective way to those who want to become more educated about these issues? So AFCC, that's really what it's all about is providing lots of veggies. They do education, continuing education. They also do policy and they also do research. So all three of those areas will be receiving, I think, a lot more attention in line with the new guidelines. And I think people will be seeing more opportunities, but it won't mitigate all of these problems that I just outlined that we are still mired in and struggling with.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (30m 48s):
Yeah.

Amy Goscha (30m 49s):
As with anything, if the step forward the rate, you know, it's, you know, you got to take baby steps to change things. Well, how do you think Dr. McNamara, you know, what is the solution to attracting the best and the brightest to kind of join this field?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (31m 8s):
There are many people who, who would like to do this work, but by the best and the brightest, I assume that means it's me. It means people who are really willing to date, take the deep dive to become truly competent in doing this work. And, you know, that takes people who are really interested in the intellectual challenge of looking at very complex problems and trying to come up with reasonable solutions to complex problems and people who are comfortable working with in a high conflict arena and with the interface with law and knowing law and to attract people to that world of work and that level of practice, the arena itself has to be attractive to them.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (31m 59s):
I mean, it's just like going into any profession. You want to go into a profession where you feel like you are reasonably safe, and even if you're going into other high risk opportunities, what safeguards are there for those occupations? And this is occupation is no different. We need safe guards. We also need to know that we will be paid for our time and our services. We need to not feel personally accountable for the problems in the entire system, right? You're part of a system. And I think sometimes more public education about what are the role, what is our role and what are the limits of our role?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (32m 41s):
Some of the things that are said about evaluators and evaluations are I think really reflect a lack of understanding about what this role is and what the limitations of it are. I think we need more training and education opportunities for the professionals themselves. We need more research on the effectiveness of evaluations, which is very, very tricky and expensive research to do. That

Amy Goscha (33m 10s):
Would be really good though.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (33m 12s):
Absolutely. So why don't we have it? And of course we don't have it because number one, you can't randomly assign people to some of the conditions that we would want to evaluate, but there's longitudinal research. There's other methods that could be used. If it's expensive, you need large samples. You need representative samples, universities rely on grant funding. This is not an area that, that is highly funded by grant providers. So it gets very complicated. Why don't we have to research? Well, there's many, many layers to that, but we do need more research. We also need more research on the fundamental issues that we base our opinions on.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (33m 58s):
So we're asked for opinions and where is the science? Well, we have science, we do have science, but it's evolving science. It is some of it's in its infancy. So that has to be taken into consideration. We need a better base. And I also think we just need more protections of the peer role. So things like triage for complaints, anybody can file a complaint and it will, it will trigger this whole train that creates costs and hardship for the evaluators. The vast majority are dismissed. We're working in a context where there are secondary motives for why somebody might file a complaint.

Amy Goscha (34m 43s):
Yeah. And we find that even with the, you know, being family lawyers, that's the highest area of complaints from malpractice, but a lot of them get dismissed, but it's expensive. It takes time to deal with it.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (34m 55s):
Yes. It's very stressful. And well-informed boards who are reviewing this work most were controlled by our professional regulatory boards who are experts. I mean, those professions have a lot of different areas of specialization. This is a very small area of specialization. So people who are on the board don't necessarily understand the nuances and the standards and guidelines that we're trying to adhere to. So some kind of a triage system for screening complaints and then well-informed boards to review them. I think court's backing up payment of, I think lots of people are giving away their time because they just don't want to fight to get their bills paid.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (35m 43s):
And, you know, quasi judicial immunity is something that evaluators in many states have and in Colorado evaluators do not have.

Amy Goscha (35m 53s):
That's interesting. Can you explain what quasi judicial immunity means just for,

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (35m 59s):
We'll probably be asking you to do that, but you, my understanding of it is

Amy Goscha (36m 3s):
Contacts like looking at what Colorado doesn't have versus other states within the parental responsibility field.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (36m 9s):
What I'm really talking about is protection from lawsuits against the good faith execution of your duty. And if you give an opinion and you've done that in good faith, and you've done that based on the standards of practice, you shouldn't be subject to lawsuits for that very role that you played. So Colorado does not have that, but many other states do

Amy Goscha (36m 34s):
Well. And you're right. It should, because as an evaluator, you CA you are appointed as like a quasi expert arm of the court. So that would make sense, you know, kind of like that as with even prosecutorial causes, immunity,

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (36m 50s):
Teach evaluators to be always mindful that once you are acquainted, you are an arm of the court, you are a coined appointed official of the core, you know, you, and you have duties that go with that. So we bear all that responsibility, but we don't enjoy any of those protections that would normally come with a role like that. So I think that's another way that evaluators could be protected if you want people to come into the field. Those are the kinds of things that give them some assurance that there are reasonable protections of me as a professional, as I do this work, it's still fraught.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (37m 33s):
It will always be a high risk occupation, but there are lots of things we could do to bring that I think down.

Amy Goscha (37m 39s):
Yeah. Yeah. That's good. What advice would you give to lawyers with the change in your field, specifically family lawyers and how to, I guess, navigate this fast and also to client, you know, at the beginning you had mentioned, there's a lot of tools that you can use before getting to, you know, having to appoint a Pirie. Are there any other recommendations that you would give to family law attorneys or to clients knowing the landscape of where periods that today?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (38m 11s):
Well, I, I started have sort of a two-prong answer to that one. Prong is if can avoid evaluations and investigations do so by all means and educate yourself about what the alternatives are, because there are excellent alternatives. So that's sort of one answer is, and for attorneys to be supportive of that attorneys. And by the way, in many of those alternative dispute resolution processes, lawyers are so pivotal to that because their clients need their advocate, their representative to be guiding them through that process and understanding if they make, if they enter into agreements, you know, how that could benefit them and what risks, you know, they need informed lawyers, you know, guiding them through that whole process.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (39m 4s):
And that's sort of the beauty of the process is that you get the benefits of all of, all of those different professionals. So there's that prom on the other prom, there are some families who need an evaluation It's needed to come to a good determination, right? So now if you're going to start down that road, my advice to attorneys would be, don't hesitate to find out from the PRA that you're considering, what is their background? What is their education? What are their areas of expertise? Do they have consultation or supervision, or, I mean, how do they get, how do they fill in gaps in their knowledge?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (39m 50s):
How do they do that? What do they read? What do they, I mean, I would bet your Pirie. Wow. But I would've said that before too. I think all consumers should have our services should do that. And the other thing I would say to lawyers is there seems to be this group that is highly litigious and ratchet up the conflict, fuel the conflict it's coming from the attorneys in some of these cases. And it is sort of horrifying to me how that manifests and the impact on the families.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (40m 31s):
So we all need to look in the mirror and look at our roles and what we're doing and what I'm shocked at. Some of the things my fellow PRS do. And I'm sure you're shocked as things, your fellow family law attorneys all need to clean up our own professions. And remember zealous advocacy and family law is a little different than in other kinds of law. These people have to go on and raise these children together. And so I think attorneys also need ongoing education about all of these issues so that they can be the best attorneys they can be for the

Amy Goscha (41m 9s):
Yeah. And advocate for the family. I mean, because I always tell my clients and it sounds so simple, but any conflict between parents is just so bad and the worst for kids, right. And if attorneys are feeling that conflict between the parents, you know, it's just hurting the kids. So I agree with you, you have to look in the mirror and determine what am I doing that's or what can I tweak to maybe make it more effective for these families?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (41m 38s):
And I think most professionals, whether they're family law, attorneys, evaluators, dispute, resolvers, parenting, I mean, all of the players in the whole system really are out to help families move forward in a healthy way. The vast majority, we came to this work to help, to help people. I think a lot of this is education. A lot of this is awareness. A lot of this is if we all put our heads together, some of these really complex problems may not be completely resolved, but we could sure have better solutions than some of the ones that we're seeing.

Amy Goscha (42m 20s):
Yeah. I was thinking, yeah, just being able to work along, not just with attorneys, you know, like what I'm seeing is there's kind of a shortage, not just with Pieris, but even some of the other player, you know, like it's hard to find really good or people who are available for parent coaching or if the mental health services, the children need a therapist, you know, like there just seems to be a shortage or there, those professionals are very taxed because they have so many clients that is difficult. From my perspective, as a family law attorney is sometimes not only finding the right professional, but finding people that are actually taking on new clients.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (43m 2s):
And when we get into some of those helping professions, therapists, and coaches and people who are in the helping role, many qualified people, or would be qualified people with perhaps some specialized training, they just don't want to work with this population. It's too litigious. It's too stressful. It's too triangulating. Now you can be trained how to deal with that kind of arena. But the truth is the risks are pretty high. And if we aren't going to do anything about trying to lower some of those risks, we will continue. I think, to see people very reluctant.

Amy Goscha (43m 41s):
Yeah. I think the silver lining in all of this is you're really helping people that need help it's complex, you know, but it's like you said, very interesting. You're solving problems for families. We've all come here for a reason to do this type of work. I guess my other question I would have for you, Dr. McNamara is what recommendation would you have for a mother or father going through this? Would it be to avoid a parental responsibility, evaluation to do everything else possible? Any other comments that you have regarding, you know, someone who's actually going through or about to go through this process?

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (44m 19s):
You know, one of the things I do is I teach a high conflict co-parenting class and it's one of my most favorite parts of my job is where I'm really working with the parents who are raising their children. And they're dealing with conflicts within addicts and difficulties. That is hard. That is very, very hard thing to do. So I, I, this is what I sort of preach. And I, it is based on good science. You want to minimize conflict, all the tools you can get in your toolbox for how to minimize conflict, negotiate conflict, deal with a difficult person, resolve issues, negotiation skills, listening skills, all the tools in your toolbox to minimize conflict.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (45m 12s):
And then also all the tools in your toolbox that you can find to maximize relationships for your children, relationships, with both parents, relationships, with you, relationships, with their peers, with other supportive adults. You want to maximize relationships because there's such buffers to all kinds of adverse childhood experiences. When children have people, they can go to trusting responsible adults and caring relationships. It is a ginormous buffer and protective factor. So pour your money and your energy into being the best parent you can be.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (45m 52s):
So let's see minimize conflict and maximize relationships. I think those are the two biggest pillars. There's a third one. I'm just not thinking of it. The moment that I like to talk about it, it's just not coming to me, but those are the kinds of things that I think, oh, I think self care. I mean, for parents to take care of themselves, to be able to get their needs met, even though maybe the best thing in the world for you would be to have nothing to do with your acts. You will forever be connected because you're raising children together and you're the parents of these children. So finding a way to take care of your needs, to protect your children from being in the role of meeting your needs.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (46m 34s):
I think that's another sort of huge area that I would always encourage parents to look at. What are you doing to take care of yourself? Are you getting your own therapy? Are you doing the things you need to do to take care of your

Amy Goscha (46m 47s):
Yeah, because you need to do that in order to be the best parent that you can be for your child. Right.

Dr. Kathleen McNamara (46m 52s):
Exactly.

Amy Goscha (46m 54s):
Yeah. Well, thank you, Dr. McNamara. I really appreciate your time today and input and the lay of the land of know where things are at with Pyrees and nationwide and in Colorado. Thank you, Dr. McNamara.

Ryan Kalamaya (47m 8s):
Hi everyone. This is Ryan again. Thank you for joining us on Divorce at Altitude. If you found our KIPP's insight or discussion helpful, please tell a friend about this podcast for show notes, additional resources or links mentioned on today's episode. Visit Divorce at Altitude dot com. Follow us on apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen in. Many of our episodes are also posted on YouTube. You can also find baby and me at Kalamaya dot LA or 9 7 8 3 1 5 2 3 6 5 that's K a L a M a Y a.law.