The (Over)Use of Forensic Experts During Custody Determinations

The (Over)Use of Forensic Experts During Custody Determinations by Joshua Katz

{3:10 minutes to read} In a divorce proceeding, custody is determined by establishing what is in the best interest of the child. 

Often, it is challenging for a judge to apply this amorphous standard and determine which parent is better suited to make decisions on behalf of the child. 

In instances where there are allegations of harmful mental illness or parental shortcomings, a forensic evaluation can be a very useful tool. Although not always required, it can help settle custody if the findings are strong for one particular side. 

If needed, a judge will appoint a forensic expert to assist in making a custody determination.

A forensic expert can be a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. There both benefits and disadvantages to each discipline. The cost varies, although a general correlation between the education level of the professional and his or her fee is observed.

The forensic expert provides a detailed report with information garnered about both parents, including judgment and reasoning skills, psychological stability, as well as parenting and disciplinary skills.

The report’s findings are determined by way of

  • meetings with parents and children;
  • detailed observations of each parent interacting with the children;
  • interviews with collateral sources such as teachers, pediatricians, nannies, or siblings; and
  • psychological testing to uncover possible psychological or psychiatric issues in the parents.

Important Points to Consider

It is indisputable that certain cases require a forensic evaluation. Regrettably, this process is incredibly lengthy, expensive, and invasive—often highly unpleasant for both parents and children. Compounding their frustration, the forensic analysis need not always be in favor of one parent over another. Sometimes, at the end of the process, it is a “draw” that merely reports both parents are sufficient, and that the children love both parents.

Similarly disconcerting, the high monetary cost of a forensic is often perceived by parties and their counsel as a cynical kind of deterrent, forcing couples of limited means to settle if they cannot afford an immediate cash retainer, often upwards of $10,000.

The selection of a forensic expert is a key component of custody litigation. Certain experts are better with professionals as parents, or in detecting alienation or psychiatric issues. Others are more attuned to teenagers or toddlers. It is important to be sure that your attorney has worked with, and is familiar with, several different forensic experts in order to choose wisely.

The lawyers at Plain and Katz have extensive experience with forensic experts. We can guide you through all of your important, custody-related decisions and answer any questions you may have about the process.


Plaine & Katz, LLP
80-02 Kew Gardens Rd.
Suite # 1050
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
718-268-0279
Website: PlaineKatz.com
Email: josh@plainekatz.com, mark@plainekatz.com

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