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Rusk, Wadlin, Heppner & Martuscello, LLP Celebrating 150 years

What Can I Expect from a Forensic Evaluation During a Custody Dispute?

Young child psychologist evaluates little boy with clipboard as he plays

During a divorce where minor children are involved, the most painless way to divide custody tends to be an agreement reached out of court, either between the parents alone or with the use of a third-party neutral. When spouses are at greater odds with one another, this sort of agreement isn’t always possible, and the parents must go to court to seek a judge’s help in allocating custody. Courtroom-based determinations of child custody will often involve the testimony of a psychologist or other mental health professional through a forensic evaluation. Read on to learn more about what to expect from a forensic evaluation, and how they are used in custody determinations.

In a child custody dispute, the judge must make the child’s best interests a priority in determining how to allocate custody. Judges will use numerous factors to determine a child’s best interests, including any history of mental illness or domestic violence for a parent, financial resources, existing custody agreements, the child’s preferences, and the home environment. Judges may also determine that a forensic psychiatric evaluation will help them to determine a child’s best interests.

Judges can decide to appoint a professional to provide an evaluation of the parents and/or children involved in the dispute. The judge, with input from the attorneys for each spouse, will select a forensic evaluator from a list of psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers known as the Mental Health Professions Panel. This list is composed of mental health professionals who have been appointed by New York Appellate Division justices and have undergone specialized training. These professionals will evaluate children individually, sometimes using psychological tests. They will observe how children interact with their parents and in their home, and may interview third parties such as family friends, teachers, or school counselors to gain more information. This individual will then compose a report that may or may not include a recommended outcome, depending on the judge’s preference. The mental health professional may be called to testify regarding the contents of the report, and parents may choose to call their own expert psychologists to testify, as well, especially if they disagree with the contents of the court’s selected expert. The forensic evaluation process can be pricey, and addressing the report and its influence on the court requires the help of a skilled custody dispute attorney.

If you are in need of knowledgeable, compassionate, and experienced legal help with a family law dispute in New York, contact the Hudson Valley family law attorneys at Rusk, Wadlin, Heppner & Martuscello for assistance with your case, in Kingston at 845-331-4100, and in Marlboro at 845-236-4411.

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