What are forensics in a child custody case in New York?

Forensics are ordered in custody and parenting time cases by the New York Family Courts and Supreme Court when there are disputes about the custody and/or visitation (parenting time) of minor children.  The custody dispute might be part of a divorce or can be a part of a case when the parties are not married or divorcing.  Forensics is the word used for investigations and reports made by psychological professionals for the court which are then used to aid in deciding how to rule on the dispute.   Usually forensics are employed for cases in which there is a battle for custody.  Sometimes, however, the question might be over time, access, child relocations or visitation with the child (ren).  Your New York City or Long Island Child Custody Attorney will be an important part of your case when forensics are involved.  Using the forensic investigator and report in a case is a technical process.

Forensic investigators are usually social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists that specialize in children and family matters.  The forensic professional will speak with each parent or other parties such as a relative or grandparent, the subject child or children, and other prominent people in the child’s or parent’s life.  Usually, at least a few meetings for each person will be required by the investigator with each parent and he/she will also meet with the child.  It is common for the forensic investigator to meet with each parent alone, the child (ren) alone and then the child together with each parent.

While forensics can be a useful tool for the trier of fact (the judge or referee), to gain valuable insight about what ruling would be in the children’s best interests, another motive might be to put financial pressure on the parties to settle.  Forensics can be a costly process.  The final price will vary from case to case, as the hourly rates of the investigators vary and the time spent on the case will differ.  How much time is required will depend on the specific matter and all the players involved. The allocation of the expense for the forensics is usually pro-rata, according to the percentage share of each parent toward the total combined income.  It is not unexpected, however, for a court to order that the costs initially be split and possibly be reallocated at trial.  Some courts will not decide a custody and visitation case without forensics regardless of the wishes of the individual parties or their financial circumstances.   Other courts are more sensitive to the financial ability to pay of each individual party and might not require them if it is a great hardship.

A forensic report might make a recommendation of the ultimate issue that the court is supposed to decide such as who should get custody.  Some judges or referees will instruct the professional not to make such an ultimate recommendation in the report, but rather to make observations which might aid the court in deciding the issue.  Ultimately the decision is up to the judge or referee that is deciding the case.  The forensic report is always made available for the lawyer’s in the case to read.  The rules of each court, and sometimes for each judge, can vary on whether the lawyers may have a copy of the report.  More often than not it is not permissible for a copy of the report to be given to the parties of a case, although their lawyers can inform them about the contents.

A case might settle after the lawyers read the forensic report and speak with their clients about the contents.  At trial, if there is not an agreement for the report to be introduced without the need to bring the forensic professional in to testify, then the professional must be called as a witness.   The witness can be questioned about his or her investigation, conclusions, findings, and recommendations.  As the forensic professional will usually be qualified by the court as an expert, the witness may give professional opinions.  Parties may seek to call their own expert witnesses to challenge or supplement the opinions of the appointed forensic investigator.   The court might give great weight to the forensics in a case so it is a matter to be taken seriously.

Feel free to call our office with your questions about forensics and family law.  It would be our pleasure to speak with you about it.

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