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New Law Amends Child Custody Evaluation Requirements

Posted on in Child Custody

Texas family law attorney, Texas complex custody lawyerAs of March 1st, Texas family courts began applying new standards to child custody evaluations. These court ordered evaluations are performed by experts who are trained to make determinations regarding the fitness of parents as well as the suitability of their respective homes as a residence for the couple’s children. The evaluator’s report is then used as evidence during the custody proceeding. The new law made important changes to evaluator eligibility requirements, conflict of interest and bias issues, and clarified the required elements of an evaluation. Custody evaluations can have a significant impact on the outcome of a custody case, so if you are considering divorce or are involved in a custody dispute, it is important to contact an experienced complex child custody attorney who will aggressively protect the interests of both you and your child.

Evaluation Orders

Prior to the passage of the law, judges could order custody evaluations at any time. Now, both parties must agree to the evaluation, or the court must hold a hearing on the subject before one can be ordered.

An order for a child custody evaluation must now contain specific information, including:

  • The names of all parties conducting the evaluation;
  • The purpose of the evaluation; and
  • Any specific issues or questions to be addressed.

While courts were previously restricted to ordering evaluations for the purpose of evaluating the child, the parents, and their residences, judges are now free to request evaluation of any other issue.

Custody Evaluation Elements

The elements of a custody evaluation were also clarified. According to the new law, evaluations must include:

  • Personal interviews with each party to the suit;
  • Interviews of each child over the age of four years;
  • Observation of each child who is the subject of the suit, regardless of his or her age, in the presence of each party, unless contact is prohibited by court order or the evaluator has good cause, recorded in writing, for not doing so;
  • Interviews and observation of any child involved in the suit who lives full-time in a residence that is the subject of the evaluation;
  • Reviewing relevant school records, physical and mental health records for all parties and children, department records, criminal histories, and any other collateral source that has relevant information;
  • Home evaluations;
  • Assessments of the relationship between the parties and each child;
  • Interviews of each individual residing on a full-time or part-time basis in a residence subject to the evaluation; and
  • Evaluations of the parties’ home environments.

Evaluator Requirements

The new law also raises the minimum qualifications required of an evaluator, who must now have a master’s degree or a medical license with board certification in psychiatry. Furthermore, only these individuals are permitted to make recommendations about custody. Evaluators are also directed to keep clear and extensive records of all interviews and investigations. The final report, when completed, must be given to the parties’ attorneys at least one month before the trial.

The recently implemented law will have important repercussions on the reliability and expense of child custody evaluations, which could have a significant impact on the outcome of a case. If you are involved in a custody dispute, please contact an aggressive Georgetown complex custody attorney at Powers and Kerr, PLLC at 512-610-6199 and a member of our legal team will help you schedule a consultation.

Sources:

https://www.traviscountytx.gov/dro/family-court

http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/FA/htm/FA.107.htm

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