In our last post, we looked very briefly at some of the factors family court judges in New York take into consideration when making child custody decisions in cases where parents cannot agree on a custody and parenting time arrangements. As we noted, the central consideration in any decision is the best interests of the child, and judges have significant discretion in weighing the various relevant factors in the case before making a final determination.
One of the important resources family courts use in making custody decisions is psychologists appointed by the court to gather information about the parents and the children involved in divorce proceedings. The service provided by these psychologists is essential, but court-appointed psychologists do have limitations and abuses certainly can occur. Unfortunately, lack of oversight of court-appointed psychologists can be a problem, as has been documented.
Part of the reason for the lack of oversight is apparently due to the confidentiality of child custody proceedings. Complaints are often inadequately handled by the Office of Professional Discipline, leaving families with essentially no recourse in cases where psychologists fail to be objective in advising the court, except perhaps to lawmakers. In addition, attempts to push courts to set up committees to provide oversight of psychologists have been inadequate. The New York State Court of Appeals located in New York City has a committee which certifies psychologists and which handles complaints against them. In some cases, the court will bar psychologists from testifying, but it has no authority to touch their licenses.
Court-appointed psychologists have a significant influence on child custody decisions, and it is important to work with an experienced attorney to ensure communication with the psychologist is accurate, clear and complete, and that the court has the proper perspective when considering the testimony of the psychologist. This is particularly important where the psychologist’s evaluation is not objective and is unfavorable to the parent.