The Child & Family Forensic Evaluation Service (CAFFES) is a forensic service that operates as a component of our Center of Excellence for Children, Families, and the Law.

Child and Family  Forensic Evaluation Service (CAFFES)

Contact Mary Ferriter at mary_ferriter@williamjames.edu and read more in the section titled "High Conflict Parent Education Classes" below.

The Child and Family Forensic Evaluation Service (CAFFES) is a forensic service that operates as a component of our Center of Excellence for Children, Families, and the Law.

Consistent with William James College's mission to "meet the evolving mental health needs of society," the Child and Family Forensic Evaluation Service of our Center of Excellence for Children, Families, and the Law, believes that highest-quality and forensically sound psychological evaluations are of great assistance to individual children and families in situations arising at the intersection of the legal system and behavioral science. Since those situations (including but not limited to divorce, guardianship, or adoption) are a relatively common occurrence in our society, on a larger scale we believe that the expertise provided by CAFFES can support positive development and interests of children as families undergo change, and so benefits individuals, families and society as a whole.

Who We Serve

CAFFES offers forensic and clinical mental health expertise for courts, attorneys, state protection agencies and others who are involved in court, mediation, or other contexts in which the resolution of disputes would be  assisted by forensically sound behavioral health evaluation and recommendations. 

Who Might Need Our Services

  • Attorneys who represent clients in litigation or mediation
  • Judges
  • Mediators
  • Parents who have been court-ordered to participate in evaluations related to child custody proceedings
  • Individuals who have been court-ordered to participate in classes focusing upon  parenting, co-parenting, etc.
What We Do
  • CAFFES provides forensic psychological evaluations that are prepared by psychologists and/or post-doctoral psychology fellows under the close supervision of highly qualified and experienced doctoral-level professionals. Below is an explanation of our reports.
  • We can address a wide variety of questions that may be posed by courts, attorneys, or others, regarding children and families going through stressful, challenging or disputed circumstances.
  • In most circumstances, the service is offered at a fixed, flat fee, which is unique feature of our program and services. Please see below for more details about payment and fees.
  • CAFFES provides state of the art, comprehensive mental health expertise in situations which arise at the intersection of the family, the legal system, and the mental health professions. CAFFES has an unsurpassed ability to provide timely "state of the art" forensic evaluations and consultations due to our staff affiliated with CAFFES and the professional resources associated with William James College.
Custody and Other Family Court Evaluations

The type of investigation and evaluation, ultimately resulting in a written report, that CAFFES offers, is most commonly thought of and referred to in Massachusetts as a "G.A.L. report", and in other states as a "custody evaluation". Strictly speaking, in Massachusetts a G.A.L. (Guardian Ad Litem) is a mental health or legal professional who is appointed by a court (as evidenced by a written appointment document that is signed by a judge). 

CAFFES will make top-quality G.A.L.-type or custody evaluation reports available to all families at a reasonable cost, in a short enough time frame to truly assist children and families in crisis or turmoil. We offer two types of fixed-fee evaluation reports. The first, at cost of $8,000-$10,000 (depending on a number of factors), is a traditional G.A.L. type of evaluation and report. The second, at cost of $6,000, is a "Brief Focused Assessment" (BFA) report. Click here for a description of a BFA.

CAFFES also provides evaluations of youth and families involved with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems (in counties other than Norfolk and Suffolk counties).  For example, we offer services to attorneys, judges or agencies seeking evaluations to address a juvenile's competence to stand trial, criminal responsibility, general mental health needs, aid in disposition needs, or specific risk assessment questions.  We can also offer services to attorneys, judges or agencies seeking assessment of the relationship between a child and the parent(s) or foster parent, an individual's parenting capacities and overall functioning, the nature of a child's special needs and the impact on separation, transition planning, and a child's overall needs.  We are a CPCS vendor.  Evaluation costs vary.  We typically request an allowed motion for $4,500.

Here are examples of questions that are appropriate for a BFA:

  1. In a case where one parent has been absent from a child’s life for a substantial amount of time: under what, if any, conditions would it benefit the child to establish a relationship with the parent and what are the risks to the child and current caretakers that should be carefully monitored over the course of any attempt to develop a relationship?
  2. In a case where there are allegations of substance abuse or mental health impairment in a parent: what are the true circumstances of that parent’s alleged substance abuse or mental health condition, and how does it impair that parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child during their parenting time? Does the parent suffer from a mental illness or substance abuse, and, if yes, how does this impact their ability to provide a consistent and safe environment during their parenting time?
  3. In a case where a child is very young or has special needs: Given a parental agreement or court ruling on legal and physical custody, what specific parenting schedule would be developmentally appropriate? Are there several variations which could be equally appropriate? Is there a type of parenting schedule that should be avoided?
  4. In a case with a young child and unsubstantiated allegations of abuse: How can access be allowed in a safe, developmentally appropriate and careful manner while the allegations are investigated and determined, especially if there has been a lapse in contact?
  5. In a case where relocation has been allowed by the court, what would be a developmentally appropriate access plan, given the circumstances of the parties and the child(ren) and the upcoming move?
  6. In a case where one parent asserts that a child wishes to change residence and live with the non-custodial parent, a BFA of the circumstances of that request could be useful. The assessment might include: What is the legitimacy of the parent’s assertion that the child so desires? What is the context of and basis for the child’s wish to change residence; is the child able to articulate his/her reasoning in a developmentally appropriate way; what is the parents’ report of the history of this request as well as the parenting and attachment history, are there concerns about parental influences on the child’s thinking/wish; does the child have any special needs and what would be the impact on the child of such a change were it to be granted?
  7. In a case of a child who appears aligned with one parent to the exclusion of the other, what are the true dynamics of the parent-child relationship, can the relationship be improved if appropriate to do so, and how?
  8. In a case where it is reported that a teenage child or children wishes to address the Court to express his/her preference(s), is that wish accurately reported and would it be in the child’s best interest and if so how might it be accomplished?
  9. In a case where a previous custody evaluation has been done but is now stale, what updates are now needed (with specific areas of focus identified -- such as a new parenting plan schedule, whether a parent has completed certain tasks that were suggested in the previous evaluation, etc.)?
  10. In a case where concerns are raised about the conditions and safety and appropriateness of one parent’s home – what does a home study reveal?
  11. Examining allegations of parent coaching, manipulating, biasing or disaffecting a child from the other parent.
  12. What if any are the needs for visitation supervision? And if visits should be supervised presently, what steps need to be taken to remove the supervision restriction?
  13. What school(s) should the child(ren) attend, including an evaluation of the educational/learning/psychosocial needs of the child(ren)?
  14. For children from birth to age three: what is the nature and quality of the child’s attachment to each parent, and what is the most appropriate time share plan both presently, and in increments as the child progresses from age one to two to three?
  15. What specific child-exchange provisions (time, place, persons present or prohibited, etc.) will best serve the children (including protecting them from conflict)?
  16. What specific legal custody language could be tailored to the child(ren) and parents at issue? That is, what specific division or assignment of who will decide what issues, would best serve the children? (to include health care, academics, extracurricular activities, etc. etc.)
  17. Determination of the best plan for sharing holidays/school closing days/summer vacation days.
  18. Choosing between two or more proposed time sharing plans (i.e. one week on/one week off vs. 2-2-5-5 vs. some other proposed plan(s)) to determine which will best serve the children’s interests.
  19. Appropriateness of childcare providers (including hired child care, family members, etc.).


Make a payment for Evaluation Service

Click on the "Pay Now" button below, enter payment amount in the next PayPal screen (Example: 20.00) and click on the "Continue" button to check out:

Note: Check out is through PayPal, however you do not need a PayPal account to make a payment. Simply select the "Pay with a debit or credit card, or Bill Me Later" option.

High Conflict Parent Education Classes

Mary M. Ferriter, Director of the High Conflict Parenting Classes Program
Phone: 617-327-6777 x2273
Fax: 617-477-2014

CAFFES offers a program for parents experiencing divorce and separation, who engage in protracted conflict over the children they share. We offer an intensive nine-week course to build co-parenting skills for parents who are in high conflict due to divorce and separation situations.This is an educational program, not counseling. Attendance at all nine sessions is mandatory.

We teach skills that can help parents solve problems faster, save money by avoiding long court battles, and create a calmer atmosphere for themselves and their child.

  • A judge of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court will order parents to participate in these sessions. Attendance is reported back to the court.
  • After receiving the court order, CAFFES will call each parent to conduct an intake interview (we screen individuals for active drug or alcohol problems, mental illness, current domestic violence, etc.).If parents are currently involved in heated litigation, we will likely screen them out, as "full battle" litigation is simply too inconsistent with what we teach (cooperative co-parenting) to expect both to go on at the same time. Parents who are fully in "court battle" mode are too distracted by the accompanying stress, anger, guarded behavior, litigation "strategy" thinking, and fears about the outcome of the litigation, to obtain the benefit of the class.
  • The best candidates for our class are co-parents who are admittedly in very high conflict, but who also genuinely wish they could achieve peaceful co-parenting.Our best results in teaching cooperative co-parenting are achieved by people who truly want to accomplish that result.
  • Participants get a Certificate at the end of the class -they can either "Pass" or "Fail" the class.The certificate is also filed with the court.In order to "Pass" a participant must attend every session of the class, complete all the class homework, and demonstrate the ability to accept the obligation for personal change (not simply demonstrate the belief that the conflict is really just the fault of the other parent).
  • Both parents attend the classes together for nine consecutive weekly sessions. Class size is small (limited to six couples).
  • The nine sessions take place from 6:00-9:00 pm, once per week, at CAFFES in Newton.
  • Each class begins with dinner and "good stuff", where parents share stories of their children's experiences throughout the week.
  • In each class, conflict resolution skills are developed and practiced around specific parenting issues like discipline, transfers, attending the child's activities at the same time, step-parents and step-siblings, holiday and vacation scheduling.We practice co-parenting skills and problem solving skills on real problems, in real time.
  • At the end of the nine weeks, we often recommend ongoing mediation to the parents.We make referrals and recommendations, but parents are free to select any mediator of their choice.
  • The fee for this course is $950 per person.We accept checks made payable to "William James College" and we accept credit cards.Full payment must be made before the start date of the first class.Non-payment is reported back to the court.

We base the class on the following beliefs:

  • Parenting together doesn't end when your relationship ends
  • Most parents can learn to parent together even after they separate
  • Children do better when their parents are not fighting (the most common remark from these children is "I wish they wouldn't fight.")
  • Parents do better when children do better
  • There are skills that help people solve disagreements
  • Parents can learn these skills

Each parent must bring a small photograph of their child/children to the first session. We use the photographs throughout the nine weeks.

Research extensively documents the well-recognized problem that a relatively small number of families in divorce and custody litigation consume a vastly disproportionate amount of the court's time. Somewhere between 3% and 10% of parents remain in prolonged high conflict for years after their separation or divorce. Contrary to the myth that divorce is bad for children, years of research has consistently shown that most children can weather divorce or changes in their family constellation quite well, as long as they are not subject to persisting inter-parental high conflict following their parents' divorce or separation . For children who are adjusting to family reconfiguration, if there are high levels of continuing parent conflict, there are substantial risks of very poor outcomes.[1] Parents can protect children from the majority of the harmful effects of separation and divorce by simply giving them a peaceful and non-conflicted childhood. Courts, family law professionals and mental health professionals, know that relentless conflict between parents causes children's social, emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning to suffer. Yet though these parents love their children they often have difficulty staying focused on the impact of their behavior on their children.

The Center of Excellence for Children, Families, and the Law at William James College now offers an educational program for high-conflict parents. This intervention teaches effective co-parenting to help parents minimize the negative impacts of divorce or separation upon their children.The skills that we teach include:

  • maintaining business-like communications,
  • making joint decisions with a minimum amount of conflict,
  • avoiding putting children in situations where their loyalty to either parent is threatened,
  • focusing on the present, not the past
  • managing emotions carefully
  • keeping behavior moderate and not extreme
  • using "I" statements rather than "you" statements
  • understanding that it is about the kids, not "me and her"
  • watching fellow class members in similar situations and seeing how they handle things
  • breaking years of silence
  • communicating without lawyers present
  • feeling some optimism about making progress without court battles

Our psychoeducational program is newly available in Massachusetts, but programs like ours have been in existence in other states across the country for quite some time. For a look at programs similar to ours that are offered in other states, we encourage you to visit:

Our syllabus consists of 27 hours of class time (9 evening sessions , 3 hours each), manda­tory attendance of both parents at all nine sessions together, taught by a two-person team of facilitators. Class membership is limited to six couples (12 people). The two-person team of facilitators is gender mixed (one male, one female) and skill-mixed (one psychology professional and one legal professional). The syllabus is a well-established model, similar to those in use in other states, and shown to have significant success in teaching co-operative co-parenting to parents engaged in protracted conflict over the children they share.

When are upcoming classes available?

We don't publish class schedules on our website. If you have a court order to attend "the next class" (signed by a judge) then be sure to provide a copy of that order to the Program Director, Mary M. Ferriter, JD, MPA. That will constitute "enrollment" and we will be in touch with you to let you know your particular class schedule.

Below is a sample calendar for a Monday class.

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
  School Closed

Note that:

(a) Classes can be held on a series of Monday nights, or Tuesday nights, or Wednesday nights, or Thursday nights (never Friday nights, and never weekends). This varies due to several factors; unfortunately we cannot tell you which night of the week "your" class series  will fall on, until the start date gets closer.

(b) Classes are not held during school vacation weeks (February and April) nor holiday weeks (no class during Thanksgiving week, Christmas week, etc.).

The fundamental goal of the class is to improve the outcomes for children of divorcing/separating parents. The charge for this class is $950 per person.

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Make a payment for a High Conflict Parenting Education Class

Click on the "Pay Now" button below, enter payment amount in the next PayPal screen (Example: 20.00) and click on the "Continue" button to check out:

Note: Check out is through PayPal, however you do not need a PayPal account to make a payment. Simply select the "Pay with a debit or credit card, or Bill Me Later" option.

[1] Research has consistently and robustly shown that children of high conflict families are at risk in many ways. To see just some of the volume of research that clearly demonstrates that the best predictor of which children will experience a host of problems following divorce or separation (including but not limited to depression, early experimentation with drugs or alcohol, unhealthy sexual encounters and teenage pregnancy, emotional problems including anxiety, low self-esteem, and declining school performance) is persisting high conflict between their parents - see for example, Deutsch, R. & Pruett, M.K. (2009). Child adjustment and high conflict divorce. In R.M. Galatzer-Levy & L. Kraus (Eds.) The Scientific Basis of Child Custody Decisions (2nd Ed.) . New York: John Wiley &Sons, 353-375.

We make parents aware that many of the damaging effects upon children from high conflict parents carry over into their adulthood and can affect them throughout their lives.

To reduce these risks, we help parents to de-escalate their custody/parenting time disputes and focus on raising happy and healthy children.

Consultation Service for any GAL or Custody Evaluator or Parent Coordinator

We offer the services of Dr. Robert Kinscherff and Dr. Jessica Greenwald O'Brien as expert consultants.

Make a payment for Consultation Service

Click on the "Pay Now" button below, enter payment amount in the next PayPal screen (Example: 20.00) and click the "Continue" button to check out:

Note: Check out is through PayPal, however you do not need a PayPal account to make a payment. Simply select the "Pay with a debit or credit card, or Bill Me Later" option.

The Leadership Team

Jessica P. Greenwald O'Brien, PhD, has been a practicing forensic and clinical psychologist for over 25 years, conducting a full range of evaluations for the Probate and Juvenile Courts, and teaching and training professionals in the field. Robert Kinscherff, PhD and JD, is a nationally renowned psychologist, and an early participant in the development of the Children and the Law Program at Judge Baker Children's Center and then the Massachusetts General Hospital.  Jennifer Durand, Esq. Jennifer is a partner at Schmidt & Federico, P.C., where she specializes in representing individual clients in complex divorce and family law matters including: child custody and parenting plans, including removal cases;  modification and contempt actions; and, paternity actions.  Mary Ferriter, Esq. is an attorney with Esdaile, Barrett, Jacobs & Mone, with years of experience in matrimonial law.  She has also served in the Chief Justice's Office of the Probate and Family Court.

Our expertise includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Child welfare and attachment 
  • Mental illness and/or substance abuse and impact upon parenting
  • Divorce and visitation disputes
  • Visitation Resistance
  • Spousal and intimate partner violence
  • Foster care, permanency planning and adoption
  • Factitious Disorder by Proxy
  • Parent Coordination in on-going post-divorce conflict
  • Parental relocation/removal during or following divorce
  • Juvenile delinquency and Youthful Offender matters, including homicide
  • Juvenile competence to stand trial 
  • Juvenile criminal responsibility
  • Juvenile sexual offender cases
  • Forensic psychological and neuropsychological testing/assessment in the context of legal proceedings
  • Assessment of the impact of exposure to adverse/traumatizing events
  • School related issues and conflicts, including threat assessment
  • Risk assessment