Critical Review of

Preparing For Child Custody Cases

by Randall Watters

This section of the Watchtower's booklet is the "Introduction" and a list of questions that a Witness parent may be asked in court. In the next file, linked at the end of these pages, you will find the Watchtower's "sample" responses for the parent to give under cross-examination. The text of the booklet is always represented in black type font, and my comments are made in red. Most of my comments are contained in the sections designated as "sample responses" by the Watchtower.

Certain paragraphs throughout the booklet will be highlighted in blue and underlined, and is my way of conveying to you some counter points regarding what the Watchtower is saying. Just click once on the blue text, and you can read my comments on their statement.

Since almost all my references in challenging their stated position are taken out of recent Watchtowers from the last 15 years or so, and since every Jehovah's Witness can obtain the entire text of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines for the last 20 years or so, there is no need to photodocument their statements, for they can be verified by any Jehovah's Witness who has a library or their 1993 or 1995 CD-ROM of Watchtower publications. Quotes are reproduced for the benefit of the reader in order to see what they have said on the issue. Page numbers are indicated in green, after each page, for the sake of reference. If a paragraph is split by a page break, the page number indicator falls after the end of said paragraph, rather than in the midst of it, to facilitate reading.

Randall Watters

 

PREPARATION FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL OR PSYCHIATRIC EVALUATION

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Today the courts rely more and more on the evaluations and recommendations of psychologists and psychiatrists in determining the best interest of a child. The process of psychological or psychiatric evaluation may be relevant to the issue of whether the religious teachings and beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses have any harmful effect on children. Therefore, there is a growing likelihood that both spouses as well as the children will receive some type of psychological evaluation, whether at the insistence of the court or at the suggestion of an attorney in preparing evidence to present the case. The objective of this discussion is to help you understand and prepare for a psychiatric or psychological evaluation.

In the past many have feared or distrusted mental health care professionals. is no basis or need for such preconceived fear or distrust. Keep in mind that the primary objective of the court proceeding and the psychological or psychiatric examination is to determine which parent is best suited to provide the child a secure and safe home. Therefore, certain matters must be kept clearly in mind:

1. Do not be unduly defensive or suspicious of the health care professional's role in the evaluation process. Many people who work in psychology and psychiatry have an interest in people and care about people. They give their subjects the benefit of the doubt. You should assume that they will try to put your best interests first if you cooperate with them. Try not to respond in a defensive or hostile manner. The mental health care professional with whom you are working has a job to do. Cooperate with him and he will try to cooperate with you.

2. Everyone has had problems or difficulties in their past and no one comes from a perfect background. When questioned about difficult areas or problems in the past, be honest and frank. Try to show how the truth has helped you to overcome psychological scars or problems, but do not exaggerate or paint the truth in an unrealistic light, claiming that all your problems have gone away since you have learned Bible principles. Show how Bible principles are helping you to cope with your problems and present them in an honest, objective manner.

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3. Do not use the psychiatric session as an opportunity to present Bible literature and witness about the Kingdom hope. The health care professional selected to evaluate you and your family has an objective in mind. If court appointed, he is required to present his findings to the court and you will want to make it easy for him to do his job. The psychologist is probably not interested in the Bible principles that guide your life. Rather, he is interested in understanding how you are applying Bible principles in your home in order to produce a healthy and well-balanced environment in which to raise the child. In some circumstances it may be appropriate for you to share your hope about God's Kingdom during an interview, but you should not make it your objective to preach to the mental health care professional who conducts the interview.

4. Show that you have a balanced view and that the truth has helped you to maintain such a view. Do not present yourself or the truth as rigid or obsessive. Rather, show the evaluator that you are a reasonable person by showing your flexibility and responding in an open and nondefensive manner. For example, questions about religious practices such as not celebrating holidays will be a part of the psychological examination. The mental health professional will be interested in determining how you, as a good parent, handle this practice with your child. He will want to know whether or not you are sensitive to the fact that your child may feel unusual, left out, or alienated by what may be a recent change in your religion.

You will want to take the initiative by showing that you have a close and a loving bond with your child, that you understand your child's honest reactions to your religious practices, that you have helped your child to develop a sense of security about the practice of his religion, and that he is not merely parroting the expressions that you have provided for him. If your child is to be tested, you should also try to prepare him or her to face the experience with an open and positive attitude.

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5. It you do not understand a question, ask for clarification. If you are asked a question you do not understand or if you feel that the interviewer is getting at something other than what is stated, you should calmly ask the evaluator to restate or rephrase the question so that you may provide an accurate answer.

6. You may be asked questions about your refusal to take blood or blood products. You may be questioned about whether you would permit your child to die because of your refusal to consent to a blood transfusion. Rather than just explaining your hope in your child's resurrection in God's new world and de-emphasizing the importance of your child's life in this system, show a balanced view and state in positive terms the medical steps that you would take to assure the child had the best possible medical treatment available. Be prepared to discuss with the evaluator specific alternative medical treatments which would be available to the child if some doctor was of the opinion that blood was needed. You do not want to give the impression that your religion requires you to allow your child to die should a medical emergency arise.

7. What is not said is often as important as what is said. Remember to maintain good eye contact with your evaluator. Sit up straight and try to relax as you speak with the evaluator. Act as if you were speaking to someone in whom you could confide.. Use a calm and measured tone of voice. Put expression and feeling into your voice so that you are able to communicate in an honest and natural way. Do not feel intimidated by your evaluator but try to put your evaluator at ease.

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8. You are on display as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. When appearing for the evaluation remember to be punctual and to dress in an appropriate manner, a manner befitting a minister of Jehovah. Since the health care professional is trained to do this type of evaluation, to the degree reasonable allow him to ask the questions and do not try to control or restructure the interview. Not every question has a hidden meaning. You do not want to present yourself as one who is paranoid or afraid to communicate honestly.

In addition to a conversational, clinical evaluation, you may be asked to take certain psychological tests which are designed to help the evaluator understand your personality and your ability to care for the best interests of the child. There are a variety of tests which may be used. Some tests focus on your intelligence and thinking ability. The Wechsler Intelligence Test appears to be a widely administered test. The Wechsler test is a series of tests and may be used for adults as well as children over the age of four. In addition to testing intelligence, this series of tests may also be used to measure the examinee's ability to formulate ideas and overall intelligence.

Other types of tests are designed to categorize the type of personality. A commonly used test is the Rorschach Test. It uses ink blots. The examinee will be shown a series of ink blots and will be asked to describe what they look like, or what the examinee thinks they might be. There are no right or wrong answers. However, if you have a defensive or hostile attitude about taking the exam, this attitude may influence the endings. Your responses will be recorded and scores, ratings, and interpretations will be derived therefrom. This test is used for adults as well as children of school age. Other tests involve use of pictures or diagrams, word associations, sentence completion, or expressive drawings.

Often more objective tests and scales are used. For example, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is widely used to test for certain personality traits. It consists of about 550 statements and it calls on the examinee to answer "true," "false" or "cannot say." The topics include family relationships, sexual and religious attitudes as well as fears and problems within the family. The interpretation of the examinee's MMPI score will take into consideration the examinee's background, ethnic group, sex, age, and education.

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Keep in mind that the objective of a psychological or psychiatric evaluation is to determine whether or not you are the parent who will provide the better home for your child. The mental health professional is interested in determining whether or not you have the personality and emotional stability to provide for the physical, mental, and emotional needs of your child. You must be prepared to show in a positive, honest and frank manner that you will provide for your child's welfare and best interests and that you are the parent more capable of doing so. Do not be quick to attack your former spouse. Rather, be prepared to show and present in an honest way the loving and caring concern you have for your child and the way in which you are able to express this to the child. Show that you have already developed a close, loving relationship with your child and that there is nothing in your personality or religious practices that would require the child not to be placed in your custody.

 

COPING WITH PSYCHIATRIC EVALUATION

To help you understand how the foregoing general principles can be applied, the following examples of questions and answers are provided to assist you in a psychological or psychiatric evaluation. As indicated, a person being evaluated should not be unduly defensive or suspicious of the health care professional's role in the evaluation process. You would want to answer any questions openly, understanding that it is the role of the mental health care professional to elicit information from you. The following is an example of how NOT to respond during the interview:

Q: Can you tell me about why you and your ex-husband divorced?

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A: Why do you want to know? I know he's probably been spreading those lies about me. You're probably going to take his side anyway.

Q: Well, no. But your husband mentioned that your religious beliefs have been a source of differences. Can you tell me a little bit about your religious beliefs?

A: You know, you psychiatrists don't even believe in the Bible. You're always negative against someone who practices the Bible. Matthew said we'd be persecuted by persons like you. Besides, you psychiatrists are more mixed up than anyone. I hear you get more divorces and commit suicide more than anyone else.

Q: I don't know if I agree with all that. But I would like to know more about your religious beliefs.

A: Well, I'm glad you asked. I've got my Bible here and I'd like to read you these scriptures. Also, I brought several articles from The Watchtower, the Reasoning book and this Blood booklet. Here-take all of these and you can learn what the Bible says.

Q: Okay. Your husband says here that you don't believe in celebrating Christmas.

A: It's right here in the Reasoning book about holidays. Just read it. If you celebrate Christmas, it's a lie. Christ was not born on December 25. We're not liars so we don't lie to our children. I don't know if You tie to your kids, do you? I can't believe how people lie to their children. Did you know that Christmas gifts cause depression in children?

Honest, direct, and non-defensive responses give a clear and accurate picture. The examiner does not expect that you have had a perfect life. Obviously, there have been some problems or rocky areas in your life. Therefore, you should feel free to talk about these situations objectively and with confidence. Here is an example to help you see the difference from the preceding interview:

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Q: When did you get married to John?

A: I married him when I was just 19 years old. I was glad to get out of the house, and I really thought I loved him when we were married.

Q: Oh, I see. And how long did the marriage last?

A: We were married for 10 years. It wasn't a good marriage right from the start.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: We were never close. I was young, and he was young. There was a lot of arguing and fighting about everything. When we had a child, things got worse. Neither one of us were ready for being parents, especially him.

Q: And what do you mean when you said 'he wasn't ready for being a parent'?

A: For the first six months he rarely even held Lisa. He would stay out late at night because she cried a lot. You know, I really think he loves Lisa now, but he rarely showed her much attention when we were together.

Q: I see. And what brought about the end of the marriage?

A: When he had an affair, I just couldn't take it anymore. He claims I drove him to it by becoming one of Jehovah's Witnesses. He was always highly critical of my beliefs and even became outwardly hostile at times. I think he was just using my religion as an excuse. When I wouldn't take him back, he wanted to get back at me by trying to take custody of my Lisa.

Q: And why do you think he was so critical of your beliefs?

A: Well, doctor, I'm not a psychiatrist, but I think he was insecure about my sincere and dedicated interest in the Bible. He always seemed to feel I would lose interest in him and not have respect for his opinions. He claimed I tried to force religion on him. But that's not true. He has the right to his own opinions. He claimed I was always going to meetings reading the Bible, and talking with people about the Bible. You know, it's true that my religious activities occupied more of my time, but I feel I was balanced.

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Q: And what do you mean, you felt you were balanced?

A: As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I learned that I had to be balanced in caring for the needs of my family. I really tried to be a better wife by showing him more kindness and love. I tried to have the house cleaned and food on the table when I attended my meetings. I didn't neglect him as he claims, but rather, I improved. Unfortunately, it seemed that the harder I tried to be a better wife, the worse he got. It seemed that my being a better person was overshadowed by being one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't want to give you the impression I was perfect. I made my mistakes. But I really feel I tried.

And I don't want to sound like he's all bad. In fact, he was a very good provider. Around the house he was very helpful in fixing and repairing things. You know, underneath his critical feelings about my religious beliefs, I always felt that he was very sensitive but he just couldn't show it. I don't love him anymore. But I do feel compassion for him. I'm really angry and hurt that he would try to get back at me by taking my Lisa and saying I'm a religious fanatic. You know, doctor, I really think there's more to it than just the religion.

A court will be interested in examining your religious beliefs. A popular issue raised when one mate is not one of Jehovah's Witnesses is the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate holidays like Christmas and birthdays. You must be prepared to respond to this issue in an honest and direct manner. The psychologist will want to know whether your children are actually damaged or hindered by your religious convictions. This presents a fine opportunity for you to show that your religious beliefs are not detrimental to your child's well-being. Rather, when viewed in the proper perspective, comparing the love and affection you offer your child and the other opportunities for enjoyable times as a family, the lack of celebration of holidays such as Christmas and birthdays poses no serious threat to the child's well-being.

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Q: I noticed from the report your spouse claims you don't allow your child to celebrate holidays like Christmas and birthdays.

A: That's true. We don't participate in these holidays because they're not accurately based on the Bible. For example, Christ was not born on December 25, but in the fall of the year. When viewed realistically, how could there have been shepherds in the fields in the wintertime? We believe that our children should not be told that Santa Claus exists when it's just not true. You know, I'm aware that my child might feel left out, so I make an extra effort to compensate for not celebrating Christmas. I'm not opposed to giving gifts; in fact, I regularly give gifts to Lisa all year round. And more important than material things, I feel that I show Lisa a lot of love. I try to build a really close relationship with her by spending a lot of time with her. You know, doctor, my ax-husband claims that by not celebrating those holidays our child is going to be psychologically damaged. But if that were really so, what about the millions of Orientals and Africans who also don't celebrate these holidays? I just can't believe that they're going to be psychologically damaged by not celebrating Christmas.

Q: Yes, that's true. You mentioned that you try to show extra interest and love to Lisa. Can you elaborate on what you do?

A: There are many times when we just sit and talk. Lisa likes to come in after school and discuss her day with me. When she brings home a school project that she's really proud of, I try to stop what I'm doing and praise her. I also like to include her in some of the household duties like cooking, sewing, and things like that. It gives me an opportunity to teach her things. I really enjoy being with her. Also, I really try to build her self-esteem and encourage her in her artwork. You know, she really has potential. Sometimes she gets discouraged because she wants to do better. So I encourage her.

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Q: Yes. Very interesting. Is there anything else?

A: Well, that's about it. Wait-there is one more thing. I do spend time studying the Bible with her. I feel it's important that she learn something about Jehovah God.

Q: And what do you teach your child in these Bible studies?

A: I try to teach her about some fundamental principles like honesty and why it is important. Also, we study about showing love to others, being kind, forgiving, and things like that.

Above all, the mental health care professional will want to know what type of relationship you have with your child. You want to communicate the fact that your religious beliefs have helped you to become a better parent. You will want to show that a Christian parent is capable of providing for the emotional and physical needs of the child, as well as the child's spiritual needs. Take the opportunity to show that a warm, loving bond already exists between you and your child, so that any disruption to this bond will be detrimental to the child.

The mental health care professional who is conducting the interview may know very little about the religious teachings and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses. Therefore, you will want to use language and illustrations that will help the examiner to clearly understand the lifestyle of a Christian. You will want to present yourself as one who follows the teachings of the Scriptures, not as one who is dogmatic and a slave to rules. By reasoning, help the examiner to see that the course you have selected is a course of wisdom and reason. The following dialogue is an example of how you might explain the fact that Christians attend five Bible-based meetings each week and are encouraged to devote additional time for personal Bible study:

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 A: Well, Lisa generally comes with me. Our meetings are much like a classroom. We usually have someone giving a reading, a discussion about a Bible topic. We encourage all, young and old, to learn to really reason and think about a matter. Rather than just telling Lisa what to think, I encourage her to use her mind. As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I feel that the Bible encourages us to use our God-given conscience.

Q: Can you give me an example of that?

A: Yes. You know God tells us to show love and kindness. Let's say that Lisa is out playing ball with another child, and she takes something that is not hers. I would reason with her about it, helping her to understand why it is wrong, rather than just punishing her or demanding that she be honest. It may sound simple, but as a parent, you know it is a very difficult process. I try my best.

Q: Okay. And how often do you go to these meetings?

A: We have five hours of meetings a week. To some, that may sound like a lot. But it's about the same number of hours a student would spend in one class at school a week. It's a relatively small number of hours if you think that there are 168 hours in a week. It's actually less than three percent.

Like holidays and the celebration of Christmas, Jehovah's Witnesses' position on the use of blood is controversial and is often raised as an issue of contention by an unbelieving mate. You want reasonably to stress the fact that you are not opposed to medical treatment. Rather, as a sound, thinking person, you desire to have medical treatment for your minor child in the event of a medical crisis. However, because of the Scriptural admonition regarding blood and the many serious medical dangers associated with blood transfusions, you want to show your reasonableness in the fact that you have already investigated medical alternatives to the use of blood. You should be prepared to talk about these alternatives in some detail, showing that you are capable and prepared to care for the child's physical needs:

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Q: As one of Jehovah's Witnesses you don't believe in blood transfusions, do you?

A: That's true. Our position on blood transfusions is primarily a religious one, but we also know there are many medical dangers from blood. We take our position on this issue from various scriptural references, such as Acts 15:28, 29 and Leviticus 17:13, 14. These scriptures point out that we should avoid the use of blood in our bodies. I'm sure you, as a doctor, are already aware of the potential medical complications that can arise from blood transfusions, such as hepatitis and AIDS. Because of our stand, some feel that we refuse all medical treatment. But this is just not true. We fully utilize medical doctors. In the area of transfusions, we do accept non-blood volume expanders such as saline solution, Ringer's lactate, dextran, etc. Perhaps you'd like to read about the medical aspects of our stand. I have a copy of an article that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association on this question of Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions. (Reproduced in the Awake! of June 22,1982, pages 25-27.)

Doctor, you might be reassured to know that I have made medical provisions to ensure that Lisa will receive proper medical attention if and when she needs it. For example, I have a doctor who has agreed to respect our views on blood. Also, if an emergency should arise, I've made arrangements to have my child transported to a hospital with doctors that specialize in surgery on Jehovah's Witnesses.

Q: Thank you. That was very interesting. I'll take the article. To be honest with you, I don't know if I'll have time to read it. But I'll certainly try.

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[end of booklet]

 


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