The Children’s Law Center shares Timothy M. Tippins’ belief in “Forensic Reform: The Time Is Now!” (NYLJ, March 2) that the current restrictions preventing distribution of forensic evaluations to litigants in custody and visitation cases should be reformed. However, we believe that parties should be guaranteed access to, rather than possession of, these reports.
The Children’s Law Center is the first public interest law firm in New York City dedicated to the representation of children in custody, guardianship and visitation matters. For 20 years, the Children’s Law Center has employed a child-oriented and reflective approach to advocacy for the thousands of children we have represented in our trial and appellate practices. This extensive experience informs our opinion that the risks of parties’ potential misuse of forensic evaluations are real, and the potential harms to children of such misuse are serious.
Despite the current rule permitting distribution of forensic evaluations to attorneys only, we have learned of multiple instances in which aggrieved parents in physical possession of a forensic report have inappropriately confronted their children. For example, parents have shared, including through social media postings, evaluation contents, such as the statements that their children made to forensic evaluators. We have also encountered parents and other parties who have used their forensic evaluations as weapons to attack each other in and out of court, rather than as tools to collaboratively establish parenting plans that serve their children’s best interests. In these cases, possession of the forensic evaluation did not improve outcomes for our clients—the children—but rather caused them emotional distress and placed further strain on their already fractured familial relationships.
Thus, we support the Matrimonial Practice Advisory and Rules Committee recommendation that would give both represented and pro se litigants access to, but not possession of, forensic evaluations. Such an approach would simultaneously afford parents and other parties due process while adequately safeguarding the interests of the children caught in the middle of contentious litigation. This proposal is not simply acceptable, as Mr. Tippins suggests, but necessary to avoid placing vulnerable children at greater risk than they already are as the subjects of a custody or visitation proceeding.
Karen P. Simmons
The writers are the executive director, deputy director and staff attorney,
respectively, of The Children’s Law Center in Brooklyn