CUSTODY AND ADOPTION EVALUATIONS: BIG CHANGES COMING
H.B. No. 1449, applicable to a Suit Affecting the Parent – Child Relationship or adoption filed on or after March 1, 2016, eliminates social studies and puts in place high standards for child custody evaluations and adoption evaluations. As with most mandatory upgrades, this will almost certainly increase the cost.
A child custody evaluation will be Court-ordered in a contested case and may contain detailed recommendations on conservatorship (Texan for “custody”)and possession and access (Texan for “visitation”)terms and conditions and “any other issue affecting the best interest of the child” (can we get any more vague?), and be performed by an evaluator who has completed at least eight hours of “family violence dynamics training” and:
Is licensed to practice medicine AND board certified in psychiatry OR has at least a master’s degree and is licensed to practice as a social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, or psychologist; AND after completing the degree, has two years full-time (30 hours per week) or “equivalent parttime experience” under professional supervision; AND After obtaining the license, has done at least 10 court-ordered evaluations under supervision;
Is working on getting those 10 evaluations done
Be employed by or under contract with a (government) domestic relations office
Has a doctorate in a human services field of study (counseling, family therapy, psychology, or social work) and has met the licensing agency’s standards for continuing education or experience to do these evaluations.
If the county has a population under 500,000, if the Court finds nobody qualified is available in the county who could get the evaluation done, the Court can appoint someone lacking some or all of the qualifications but the evaluation must still be done to the same standards. Even using the figures from the 2010 census (https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/popcnty201011.html), Denton, Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin counties won’t have this option; Cooke, Grayson, and Wise counties will have it.
And if you think reading this whole post was a whuppin’, let me point out three things: (1) congratulations for getting this far; (2) you can try your hand a reading the new statute at Texas Legislature Online (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/); and (3) this is just the beginning, and I will be posting more about this significant change, but probably not today.