Live and learn. I’ve seen a lot of controversy over some of the players in the San Diego divorce industry–particularly regarding Stephen Doyne. I thought rather than post on the several sites with short comments allowed there, I’d use this as a way to express some more considered observations.
Some Context/Advice on a Controversial Topic
It’s an important topic–these custody evaluators make fortunes tying up the lives of families and children for years. They’re unregulated in a hihgly controversial area for which there are no real professional standards and all related professional boards (American Psychological Association, etc.) won’t have anything to do with them. In short, they’re bastard children of the the sciences they affiliate.
And for good reason–there’s no science behind what they do. Problem is, most parents are simply not sophisticated enough (or are too angry, freightened, greedy, etc.) to realize it’s a scam until it’s too late. If this is you, sorry–you probably are getting what you deserve, but at least now there’s a place we can share ideas more constructively in hopes that more unsuspecting parents don’t fall into this trap.
So, please feel free to post your detailed reviews/comments of Dr. Stephen Doyne and any other child custody evaluator–but please be sure to make suggestions to parents going through the process–how can they benefit from the experience of those of us who’ve been through it? What advice can you leave for others?
That being said-here’s my contribution (in lieu of many posts on other sites):
Lot of bad reviews for this guy all over the net, and a lot of controversy about why. I’ve been in the middle of several discussions about the guy and have picked up a few useful observations that might help you sort out what’s true, what’s false, and why he’s so controversial.
Several factors at work, most of which center on disconnects between what people expect him to be (for whatever reason—I’ll talk about this later) and what he really is. In other words, most people don’t understand what he does, why he does it, and how.
First, most people agree he’s a nice guy—at least at first. He’s elderly—comes across as a kind uncle. He’s intelligent. Plenty of training and degrees. If he wanted to do more traditional clinical therapy (which is NOT what he does—take note), he’d probably be pretty good as a “motivator”—in other words “Let’s talk about your problems, I see somesolutions, now let’s work on improving you.” He’s NOT a “client-centered” therapist—one who more “passively” let’s the client work around his/her own problems with “gentle” prodding like “so, you want to kill your mother. Hmm, that’s interesting. So why do you feel that way?” in hopes that the client will eventually come to realize he’s a homicidal maniac and ask for help on his own.
But he’s not a good “therapist”: Doyne’s more of a “coach”: “So, you want to kill you mother. That’s kind of a bad idea. Let’s not do that for now. Now, if you keep coming back I have a plan we can work on together to get you on the right track.” In other words, he’s a typical “guy”—“I see your problem. I have the solution. Trust me and I’ll get you through it even though it’s going to hurt.”
Fair enough—sounds rational in this context I agree. However, in divorce setting, “Finding the problem” is far more tricky, and even dangerous. Fact is, by the time people get to his office they’ve already been through hell and are as likely to just kill the other person as put in the effort to solve the many problems Doyne can “find” and “help you fix.” In that context, he’s role as “judge and jury” for problem identification and solution is likely to result in exactly the dynamic he creates—hostility and accusation in hopes of (in his own words) “winning” custody by damning the “opponent” spouse.
So his m.o. (and I’ve heard from dozens of parents and even he’ll admit it if you ask) is to “fix” the chief complainer by “fixing” the target; In other words—“give in to him/her, shape up a little, and she’ll let you stick around.” In most cases, this means empowering the person who identifies the most problems with the other spouse. Side with the complainer and the complaints go away. Everyone’s happy. Right?
We all know where this story leads. Enable mole hills and you end up with mountains. Now, for Doyne, this makes financial sense: Problems mean money. And, remember, he’s not only good at (being paid to) find problems, but he’s also “right there with you” to help the “problem child” through all those problems he never knew he had. For years ($$$) and years ($$$$$) and years ($$$$$$$$) to come. Who could ask for a better friend than that?
Whether Doyne truly believes his “clients” actually have problems or not is irrelevant to a profitable practice—as long as both clients are convinced (or deluded, or coerced) into believing they do (or at least one does and the other is too frightened to bail out). Does he care? Probably, so long as he’s paid to sit around and you’re stupid enough to keep paying him to listen (when probably everybody else is sick of hearing your opinions about how everyone but you—but particularly your ex—is responsible for your unhappiness).
Now, it some contexts this can be the solution: “Yes, I have anger issues. Yes I want to see the kids. Yes I’ll pay you to make that happen and work with you.” That guy may find it worth while to spend a fortune with Doyne, and if he’s already in a corner with the court custody process, he may have little choice if he wants to see his kids again. In other words, he’s been beaten into submission to a solution he didn’t want, doesn’t need, and costs a fortune. Indentured servitude—Only mamma (or daddy) knows what’s best for you.
Problem is, most people don’t know this going in—or at least the unsuspecting likely target isn’t warned ahead of time. If you, like many, enter the process with the understanding that Doyne’s going to help make the transition out of the relationship easier, you’re wrong. If both parties just need coordination to arrange custody schedules, flipping a coin is a better problem solver. Doyne’s role, as he sees it, is to “save” one or more parents from the “risk” of losing custody (which he controls) by “recommending” tight controls, schedules, and tons of “homework” (including his vast network of related “services”) for ”problem” parents. In other words, he starts with the assumption that one or both are problems and need lots of work. His job is to find problems (real or otherwise), prepare complicated (and expensive) “self-help” solutions, tie one or both parents to the program with threats of custody swings, and sit back and send bills to watch ‘em sweat. Unless you’re already stellar parents (in which case you wouldn’t be here) you’re likely to end up as fodder for a very expensive, harmful system. If either of you are fault-finding, negative, exaggerator/liars, or manipulative, Doyne’s going to retire early on your child’s college fund.
In short, Doyne (and the attorneys that use him) sells an enormously expensive, entirely unnecessary, and often disastrously harmful “menu” of stuff that’s almost always bad for you. Most parents don’t realize this until they’re stuck in it and it’s too late to get out (he’ll jerk custody if you bail). Best solution is to avoid any of these “evaluators” and work with more positive approaches such as uptoparents (google it) and individual (not Doyne or marital—it’s too hostile) therapy or with a religious adviser for any issues you have, and trust me—you have issues, but joint therapy during divorce is potentially disastrous).
Remember: “Man/Woman” problems have been around at least since the human fall from grace—you’re not the first to find that mate of yours to be a pain. The way out is simple: “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
Good luck parents. Don’t blame, give love, and get out as fast as you can!