Child custody and visitation can be among the most contentious and emotionally charged aspects of a divorce. Judges must decide these issues with a view to promoting the child’s best interests. In New York, judges routinely utilize appointed custody evaluators to help determine what is best for a child, especially as concerns protection from possible abuse. Underscoring the importance of these officials, the state recently adopted legislation that requires them to have continuing education on domestic violence.
The new legislation, which took effect June 21, 2023, came in response to several incidents where a parent with violent propensities was allowed custody or visitation with horrific results. The most notorious case was that of Kyra Franchetti, a 2-year-old girl who was killed by her father while on a court-authorized, unsupervised visit during a contested custody case, despite the mother’s warnings. The case also led to the introduction of Kyra’s Law, a pending measure that would allow judges to enter temporary emergency orders based on either parent’s allegations of child abuse or domestic violence.
The law just enacted requires that a custody evaluator be a state licensed psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker who meets certain professional standards and training requirements, specifically in the area of domestic violence. The law calls for state officials to work with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence to develop a continuing education program to instruct evaluators, focusing on identifying signs of a person’s violent tendencies and developing strategies for minimizing the risk of harm to the child. The statute mandates biennial domestic violence training for custody evaluators.
In New York, a custody evaluator makes an independent determination of the child’s psychological well-being and assesses potential custody and visitation scenarios. Evaluators typically conduct in-person interviews and home visits to observe the child’s living arrangements and family dynamics. Evaluators can also use sources such as medical reports, police reports and school transcripts. Once the evaluation is complete, the custody evaluator submits a report that usually contains a recommendation as to custody, visitation and any other relevant issues. A family court judge can use the report in making the applicable rulings.
It appears that under the new law, New York family court judges will be more inclined to order custody evaluations, which will have a profound impact on litigants in these cases. Thorough evaluations take time and the evaluator’s efforts might easily delay the divorce. In addition, the evaluator’s fees and costs are usually borne by one or both parents. Given the scope and complexity of the work, evaluator charges can climb into the five-figure range. An experienced family law attorney can be vital guide to dealing with this aspect of divorce.
As a Buffalo divorce lawyer for 28 years, I have devoted myself to solving the problems that affect families throughout the Buffalo metropolitan area and Western New York. As a family law attorney, I make it my goal to create a partnership of trust with my clients. People put their trust in me to handle cases that can potentially have a long-lasting impact on not only their lives, but the lives of their family as well.
Alexandra M. Rockwood is a Senior Associate Attorney with the Law Offices of Randy S. Margulis & Associates and has been with the firm since early 2020. She primarily practices in the areas of matrimonial and family law, including divorce, child custody, and child support. Alexandra is a practicing matrimonial and family law attorney as…