Expert Evaluations and The Best Interests of a Child

The Standard for Child Conservatorship

In many states, legal disputes between parents of a minor child regarding who will be primarily responsible for their child’s care and upbringing are resolved by judges using the “best interests of the child” standard. Ideally, the child’s parents cooperatively negotiate a compromise regarding the child’s best interest as they are in the best position to determine what is best for their children.

Unfortunately, some cases regarding child custody—known as conservatorship in Texas—cannot be resolved without court/judicial intervention because the acrimony between the parties makes cooperation and compromise an utter fantasy. As a result, the court is burdened with the unenviable task of trying to figure out generally what custodial situation is in the “best interest of the child.”

Despite the experience that a family law judge may have regarding the physical, emotional, and developmental needs of children, the best interests of the child standard makes the use of experts necessary to ensure that the “best interest of the child” prevails.

Custody Evaluations

In cases where child conservatorship is an issue, Texas courts will consider several factors when determining what is in the “best interest of the child.” In the case of Holley v. Adams, the Texas Supreme Court listed several factors the court may consider when making determinations of a child’s best interests. It is important to note that these factors are not a comprehensive list of what the court may consider when determining the “best interest of the child,” but they none-the-less instructive on points for the court to consider. The so called “Holley Factors” are as follows:

  • The desires of the child.
  • The emotional and physical need of the child at the time and in the future.
  • The emotional and physical danger to the child at the time and in the future.
  • The parental abilities of the individuals seeking custody.
  • The programs available to assist these individuals to promote the best interest of the child.
  • The plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody.
  • The stability of the home or proposed placement.
  • The acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one.
  • Any excuses for acts or omissions of the parents.

Given the potential stakes involved in conservatorship cases, Texas courts undertake an intensive analysis utilizing the “Holley Factors.”. Frequently, the evaluation of these factors requires the involvement of experts in other fields to aid the court in determining what is in the “best interest of the child.” The court—or the parties, upon request—may utilize the opinions of a custody evaluator.

For the most part, custody evaluators have extensive training and study in the issues that often come up in conservatorship cases. Texas Family Code § 107.104 outlines the qualifications of custody evaluators, which usually require graduate-level study in the field of human services, social work, family therapy, or psychology and medicine.

Benefits of Experts

In particular, custody evaluators and similar experts are used to shed light on concepts and issues that are beyond average understanding.

For example, child conservatorship proceedings involving the parties’ rights and responsibilities regarding the possession of a child with a unique medical condition will likely involve the testimony of an expert, such as custody evaluator, an experienced psychologist, or therapist.

Experts can also provide instrumental views and introduce guidance when helping parents develop a comprehensive parenting plan that takes the emotional, psychological, or medical needs of their child.

Maximizing the Benefit of Experts

Like most professionals, the more information they evaluate, the better. A greater quantity of evidence and data can help the expert paint a more accurate picture of the child’s life and help the court determine what is in the “best interest of the child.” Documents such as school and medical records are of use in custody evaluations as are interviews with the child themselves as well as important persons in the child’s life (i.e. grandparents, teachers, coaches, and family friends).

Contact Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers for Comprehensive Advice

If you are looking for an experienced family law attorney to support your interests in a conservatorship case, you should contact Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers for quality counsel and legal representation.

To learn more about our services, please call Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers at (940) 293-2313 to schedule a consultation about your case today.

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