Evaluators in child custody cases who have been terminated for cause would be blocked from appearing as expert witnesses in family court custody cases and visitation proceedings under legislation proposed this week by state Sen. Peter Harckham.
The proposal comes after a commission last year determined the state's approach to what are known as forensic child custody evaluations and amid heightened concerns over whether the interest and safety of the child are being safeguarded.
The blue-ribbon panel on child custody cases that found there was no uniform approach for who could act as a forensic custody evaluator or how evaluators should conduct themselves.
“We need to do all we can to protect our families and children, especially in custody cases that will impact their lives in both the short- and long-term,” Harckham said. “My legislation will ensure that forensic evaluators maintain a level of professionalism and trustworthiness when it comes to advocating what’s best in custody cases.”
Twenty children in New York state in the last five years have been murdered by a parent as they were going through a divorce, child custody proceeding or separation.
Harckham's legislation is meant to adddress instances in which a forensic child custody evaluator is being called as an expert witness in custody and visitation cases and has been removed from a previous position or had their license revoked.
The proposal is being backed by anti-domestic violence advocates in the state, who called it a necessary safeguard for families.
“Family Court proceedings center on issues of greatest importance to New York’s families — those relating to the safety and well-being of children,” said Joan Gerhardt, the director of public policy and advocacy at the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Within that framework, forensic child custody evaluators play a critical role in describing the family’s needs to the court. When someone has been terminated for cause from serving as a child custody evaluator, it goes without saying that this person should no longer be able to provide testimony to the court, and any report they have produced should not be relied upon."