Contrary to popular belief, Joint Child Custody is not the standard on Long Island or in New York State. This fact often leads to Contested Child Custody cases in Nassau County or Suffolk County Court when both parents seek Sole Child Custody.
The Role of the Forensic Evaluator in Contested Child Custody
When both parents seek custody of the child the standard in Nassau County and Suffolk County Courts is to act in the “best interests of the child.” Often, the court will appoint what is known as a Forensic Evaluator or other mental health professional to help determine the best interests of the child. The forensic evaluator can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. The forensic evaluator will meet with nearly everyone in the child’s life, including but not limited to:
- The child him or herself
- The child’s siblings
- The child’s parents
- Friends of the parents
- Any other mental health professionals with whom the child may be involved
The evaluator will meet with the child alone and also observe the child interacting with each parent. The evaluator plays a very important role in determining the best interests of the child because the court will often weigh the forensic evaluator’s report heavily in its determination of what is in the best interests of the child.
Controversy Over Forensic Evaluators in Nassau & Suffolk County Courts
The forensic evaluator’s role in the child custody process on Long Island has become increasingly controversial. The forensic evaluator’s report can have tremendous influence upon the judge’s ruling and the forensic evaluator can be called as a witness in the child custody proceedings. However, the attorneys for either parent are not permitted to speak with the evaluator and attorneys argue that there is no consistent standard for how much access either side in the Child Custody case can have to the reports.
3 Legal Challenges to Create a Consistent Standard
Recently, there were three major proposals presented to the Office of Court Administration, which is the office in control of the rules regarding access to the reports by attorneys and their clients. The three proposals came from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), the Family Court Advisory and the Family Court Advisory Rules Committee (FCARC), and the Matrimonial.
NYSBA Proposal: Everybody Gets a Copy
The NYSBA proposes that counsel for each party and counsel for the child are each permitted to receive a copy of the report and the report remain confidential. In addition, NYSBA proposed that the court have the discretion to permit each party to have a copy of the report to read and take notes on in a secure location. If the party had counsel this would be done at the attorney’s office and if the party were a pro se litigant it would most likely be done at the courthouse.
Matrimonial Committee Proposal: Further Non-Disclosure
The proposal by the Matrimonial Committee is similar to the NYSBA proposal; with an additional step requiring counsel for each party to execute an affirmation of further non-disclosure. If a party is unrepresented they will also have to execute an affirmation of further non-disclosure.
FCARC Proposal: Case-by-Case
The FCARC proposal takes a case-by-case basis approach, where the court will determine how much access the parties will have to the report and it will be applied equally to each party as well as parties without counsel.
There is heavy favor for the case-by-case approach submitted by FCARC because it allows for the most judicial discretion and flexibility, but the Office of Court Administration has stated it is unsure when a decision will be made.
Outcome will Effect Parents and Children on Long Island
In any event, this is a serious development in Contested Child Custody cases in Nassau County and Suffolk County courts on Long Island whose outcome will affect parents and their children for years to come.
Questions About Child Custody and Visitation on Long Island?
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