In most jurisdictions, the standard for determining custody is: what is in the child’s best interest? When parents cannot agree on the answer to this basic question, the court will often defer to experts. There are mental health professionals that can conduct custody evaluations. After meeting with the children, their parents, and other key figures in the children’s life, the custody evaluator will make a recommendation as to the best custodial arrangement for the kids. These recommendations are not binding, although they carry substantial weight, and then each side still gets to present his/her case. Here are some other players in the courtroom:
BIA= best interest attorney
PC= Parent Coordinator
CPA= Child Privilege Attorney
A “BIA,” is an attorney, who is usually appointed by the court to represent the kids, and presumably give them a voice in the court proceedings. As a BIA, I get to participate in discovery, call all the collateral witnesses, meet with my client at both homes, then alone, and cross-examine all the witnesses at trial. When therapists are involved, a Child Privilege Attorney (“CPA”) may be assigned to the kids in order to determine if their patient-therapist privilege should be waived. Obviously, when we are talking about BIAs and CPAs, we are discussing the most contentious, high-conflict cases out there.
High conflict cases make up about 20% of the court’s docket, but they are the most time-consuming and the ones most likely to wind up going to trial, where normally there is only a 5% chance of a trial. Afterwards, these families are usually encouraged to work out future issues with a Parent Coordinator (“PC”). A PC may be an attorney or mental health professional. They essentially act as arbitrators that can break an impasse when parents cannot agree on an issue, thereby sparing the family the need to return to court. Because of the complicated nature of these roles, only experienced professionals are assigned these cases, and thankfully we all know each other and can assist families in these situations.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.