Will a New York Court Order a Forensic Evaluation When Grandparents Seek Custody of a Child?

Many New York family law cases involve a child custody dispute. Most often, these disputes arise when the parents of a child or children go through a divorce and argue over who has primary custody of the children. However, in some cases, grandparents seek visitation or custody of a child. This may be after a divorce or even while the child’s parents are still together.In previous posts, we have discussed under which situations a court may award visitation or custody to grandparents. As previously noted, grandparents do not have a “right” to the custody of their grandchildren. Thus, custody will only be awarded to a grandparent if certain factors are present. Among others, a court must determine that awarding custody to a grandparent or grandparents is in the best interests of the child.

How Do Courts Determine What Is in the Best Interests of a Child?

Judges know the law. However, very few judges are trained in psychology, and fewer still are able to glean sufficient knowledge of a family’s dynamics through the evidence presented to the court. For example, much of the evidence presented in a New York custody case may be limited to text on a page, which may not provide a judge with much knowledge of the relationships between the parents, children, and grandparents. Additionally, any live-witness testimony has the potential to be biased or fabricated.

Thus, New York family law judges are given the ability to order forensic evaluations in some cases. Under New York Code Family Court Act section 251, a judge can order anyone who is legally responsible for the care of a child to be evaluated by a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Similarly, in a custody dispute in a divorce, Judge’s have authority to order mental examinations pursuant to the Civil Practice Law and Rules.  The determination of whether a forensic evaluation is appropriate is largely left to the discretion of the judge.  Forsensic evaluations might be more frequently ordered when custody is at issue, however it could also be helpful and utilized in a visitation case.

It is important to understand why the need for a forensic evaluation may arise in cases in which a grandparent is seeking custody or visitation of a grandchild. For one, the very nature of this type of request implies that the grandparents and parents do not get along, or at least that the grandparents strongly believe that the parents are not fit to have custody of the children. Of course, this belief may be legitimate, or it may relate to some tangential matter that does not actually weigh on the parents’ ability to raise their children. Thus, forensic evaluations are especially common when there are allegations of drug abuse, a history of physical abuse, or mental unfitness to care for a child.

Are You in a New York Custody Dispute?

If you are currently involved in a New York child custody dispute, or you believe that you will soon be arguing over custody of your children or grandchildren, contact the Law and Mediation Offices of Darren M. Shapiro to discuss your case. Attorney Shapiro has extensive experience representing family members in New York child custody cases, and he understands the factors judges consider when making custody decisions. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Shapiro to discuss your case, call 516-333-6555 today.

More Blog Posts:

Can a New York Family Court Judge Order Grandparent Visitation?, Long Island Family Law and Mediation Blog, May 31, 2018

Grandparent Visitation in New York: Do a Child’s Expressed Desires Weigh into the Court’s Decision?, Long Island Family Law and Mediation Blog, June 12, 2018

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