Forensic Evaluations in Contested Custody Cases
In New York, when there is a custody dispute, the Courts are empowered to order the parties to retain and cooperate with a forensic evaluation. (In the Matter of Elaine Sassower-Berlin v. Stephen Berlin, 31 AD3d 771 [2d Dept 2006]).Said evaluation is for the purpose of assisting the Court in determining the parties’ respective abilities to serve the “best interests” of the child(re). The best interest of the children is of paramount concern and consideration to the court in all custody determinations. (DRL §§ 70, 240(1); Friederwitzer v. Friederwitzer, 55 NY2d 89 ; Eschbach v. Eschbach, 56 NY2d 167 ). The forensic evaluator’s opinion generally holds substantial weight in the court’s ultimate determination of who will be the custodial parent.
A forensic evaluator is a licensed mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker) who will require HIPAA authorizations and speak to not only the parties and the child(ren), but also friends, family members, and other third parties who may assist in the analysis and recommendations s/he will make to the Court in a written report.
There is generally a significant cost associated with the retention of a forensic expert, to the tune of several thousands of dollars in fees. Generally, the Court will assign pro-rata responsibility to the parties for the payment of the forensic evaluator’s fee.