Assembly Passes Landmark Family Court Forensic Evaluator Reform

The legislation from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz would standardize the field of court ordered forensic evaluators, which often play a critical role in custody and visitation hearings

Albany, NY – Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has passed a landmark bill (A2375B) which creates new standards for a profession that often has significant influence in the outcomes of custody and visitation hearings. The legislation was spurred by the tragic death of Kyra Franchetti and other young children who have been murdered by a parent that was granted custody or visitation despite known histories of violence and abuse.

The legislation adds new requirements that a child custody forensic evaluator be a New York state-licensed psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist who has undergone biennial domestic violence-related training. The legislation also tasks the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence to work with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence to develop this training program. Standards for child custody forensic evaluators currently varies by county in New York State.

The Center for Judicial Excellence, which is a child advocacy not-for-profit organization that promotes judicial accountability and child safety, found that more than 700 children nationwide have been killed since 2008 by a parent or parental figure during circumstances involving divorce, separation, custody, visitation, or child support. The organization also found that at least 98 children in 40 states have been killed by a parent or parental figure after a family court allowed unsupervised contact with a child despite knowledge of a violent history, mental illness, or risk of harming a child.

The legislation was crafted with input from a variety of stakeholders, and reflects principles contained in the 2018 congressional resolution (H.Con.Res.72) which urged state courts to make child safety the first priority of court decisions involving custody and parenting. It also coincides with the launch of a “Blue Ribbon Commission” created by Governor Cuomo after being proposed in his 2021 State of the State address and Women’s Agenda.

The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly. The legislation has not yet passed in the State Senate.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: “The death of any child is a tragedy, but it is especially tragic when that death could have been prevented by a better qualified assessment of a child’s safety in a custody proceeding. I am proud to have crafted this legislation, which reflects a consensus among child safety advocates and family court reformers, and I urge my colleagues in the State Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible.”

“I am incredibly thankful to Assemblyman Dinowitz for the unwavering commitment and dedication to the forensic evaluator training bill,” said Jacqueline Franchetti, Founder of Kyra's Champions. Franchetti's 2-year-old daughter was killed a murder-suicide by her abusive father during a child custody case in Nassau County. “There was a forensic evaluator in Kyra's case who failed. Child custody cases are life and death situations, and we need evaluators to fully understand the dynamics of family violence, child abuse and trauma. Our children's lives depend on this.”