Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Arnold L. Stolberg


Attorney and judicial attitudes towards expert witnesses in child custody cases were investigated by a cross-sectional research design. Subjects consisted of a sample of 381 of all attorneys and judges in the Commonwealth of Virginia who wished to be certified as guardians ad litem. Subjects were asked to fill out a six page questionnaire immediately prior to a daylong certification training session. The sample was primarily white (85.2%) and male (57.7%). Information was gathered on the subjects' demographic characteristics, experience with and attitudes toward expert witnesses in custody cases, opinions on traditional court and family structures, and knowledge of developmental and parenting psychology. Factor analyses and examination of the reliability of the instruments allows the development of more reliable and valid measures for model testing. Results generally confirmed Banks & Poythress' (1982) tripartite theory of credibility as being composed of perceived expertise, trustworthiness, and dynamism. Characteristics of attorneys and judges were also shown to be an important contributor to their perceptions of expert witnesses in child custody cases. Specifically, those courtroom professionals who had greater training, knowledge, and experience relevant to custody cases tended to view specific expert witnesses more positively. Those attorneys and judges with more traditional court attitudes rated expert witnesses in general as less helpful. However, these traditional attitudes did not cause them to devalue expert witness testimony in specific cases. This study is part of a larger program of study which will attempt to determine the extent to which the quality of expert witness testimony affects perceptions of their credibility, and how perceptions of expert witness credibility relate to judicial decisionmaking in child custody cases.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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