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When Should a New York Court Order Forensics in Child Custody Cases?

May 14, 2018

Countless cases are filed in the New York Family Courts asking for help in deciding the permanent placement of a child. Two parents can bring a lot of drama and emotion into the courtroom when there is a dispute on who is the better custodian. The court does not take these decisions lightly, as they have a monumental task to weed through all the arguments to find the truth. Finding the “best interest of the child” often requires more than just testimony. More evidence is needed to ensure the proper decision is made.

Using Forensics in Family Law

Many methods are used that include but are not limited to, forensic evaluations, to determine the proper placement. While forensics is often thought of as applied to solve murders and as part of criminal cases, they can also be very advantageous in family law too. Both specialized psychological testing as well as conducting parent and child clinical interviews can aid the court in making a careful decision.

In cases where there are allegations of physical or sexual abuse, medical examinations are also given. The court can assign a Guardian Ad Litem, medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist to the case. These professionals will make home visits, conduct examinations, and put together reports that become part of the case file. The court uses these documents to make an informed decision on the matter at hand.

Many cases do not necessitate forensic evaluations. However, when there are heated disputes or accusations that the court must resolve, then they will turn to forensics to help decide. Each parent, unless they are deemed unfit, will have some sort of role in their child’s life. The most coveted win is that of a custodial parent. The other parent is forced to deal with a parenting and visitation arrangement that reduces the time they receive. When considering the loss of time, things can get quite heated in these cases.

Making the Decision to Use Forensics

When evaluating a case, the court will see if any complaints require a more in-depth study. If they feel that they cannot make an informed decision based on the information already presented, then forensics are introduced. Since there is already a dispute, very few cases get through the courts without the use of these in-depth investigations. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can make a motion to have forensics used. Ordering a mental evaluation on the other party is commonplace to prove the person unfit.

Consequently, the court does not need to have a motion to request these evaluations. They can make a motion, which is called a sua sponte. An evaluator may be appointed if the situation warrants. Also, the court will determine what kind of forensics are needed to give them the best information for deciding custody.

Reasons Why Forensics Are Used

When does the court feel that forensics are necessary? Let’s assume that two parents made a voluntary agreement regarding the placement and visitation of their daughter. All was fine until an argument that changed everything. One parent began withholding the girl from seeing the other parent.

The individual who no longer sees their child, filed a petition to receive custody and guardianship, but the other parent also presented a similar petition. Cases like this happen all the time. Even if an agreement is reached, it is better to have it documented in the court. While some parties are successful in co-parenting throughout the child’s life, very few can do so without disputes.

The Family Court must decide where the child would be best suited. If this case was to be decided without using forensics, it could be overturned in an appellate court as an error. The appellate court would say that the Family Court is unable to determine the “child’s best interests” if there were no assessments to help them with their decision.

Separating a child from the parent, where they have always lived, can have a tremendous psychological impact. The health and wellbeing are the foremost concern. Now, if either party brought allegations of drug, alcohol or sexual abuse, then they have a grave responsibility to deem these contentions as true or false. The court would evaluate both parents to make a fair analysis of the situation, They would make a ruling based on the factual issues of the case, which would help them determine who should receive guardianship.

Subjects that might require a forensic evaluation may comprise relocation issues, a parent or a child’s emotional difficulties, claims of alcohol or drug abuse, or evidence that show a custodial parent might demoralize the connection between a child and the other parent.

Are Forensics A Violation of Privacy? 

When it comes to forensics, some may feel that these inquiries are a violation of their privacy, especially if they have done nothing wrong. Having a mental or physical evaluation is routine and can be part of any case. New York Civil Practice Laws deem in Rule 3121 that either party and the court, can ask for these evaluations as part of their case. Any contested custody proceeding that seeks to find the best situation for the child is subject to forensic evaluation, though it is not always used. The circumstances surrounding the case will dictate whether these assessments are needed. They are often used to retaliate during a heated custody battle.

When dealing with a disputed custody case, it is best to use mediation services to avoid going to court. Dealing with these cases can increase stress for both parents and the child. Working together through a co-parenting arrangement is best for all involved. However, when a person files a petition in court, they should be prepared for all manner of scrutiny, including forensic investigations, to find the best interests of the child.

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