|By: Thompson, Senfronia|
|Juvenile Justice & Family Issues|
|Committee Report (Substituted)|
|BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE
Interested parties note the need to clarify and update the law relating to child custody evaluations. C.S.H.B. 1501 seeks to provide that clarification and update.
|CRIMINAL JUSTICE IMPACT
It is the committee’s opinion that this bill expressly does one or more of the following: creates a criminal offense, increases the punishment for an existing criminal offense or category of offenses, or changes the eligibility of a person for community supervision, parole, or mandatory supervision.
It is the committee’s opinion that this bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.
C.S.H.B. 1501 amends the Family Code to include a child custody evaluator among the individuals appointed in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship who are immune from liability for civil damages arising from an action taken, a recommendation made, or an opinion given in the suit. The bill includes in the required components of an order for a child custody evaluation a list of the basic elements of such an evaluation and a list of any additional elements of an evaluation required by the court to be completed. The bill excludes an order appointing a child custody evaluator who is qualified on the basis of the evaluator’s employment or contract with a domestic relations office from the orders that must contain the required components. The bill includes any additional element ordered by the court in the requirement for a child custody evaluator to complete each basic element of an evaluation before offering an opinion regarding conservatorship of a child who is the subject of a suit or possession of or access to the child and creates an exception to the requirement if the failure to complete an element is satisfactorily explained. The bill establishes four years of age as the minimum age at which a child who is the subject of a suit may be interviewed and revises the basic elements required to be included in an evaluation. The bill specifies that the additional elements of an evaluation provided under state law may be ordered by a court.
C.S.H.B. 1501 authorizes a child custody evaluator to request additional orders from the court if the evaluator considers psychometric testing necessary for the evaluation but lacks specialized training or expertise to use specified tests or if the evaluator identifies the presence of a potentially undiagnosed serious mental illness experienced by an individual who is a subject of the child custody evaluation and the evaluator is not qualified to assess a serious mental illness.
C.S.H.B. 1501 entitles a child custody evaluator appointed by a court to obtain records that relate to any person residing in a residence subject to a child custody evaluation from a local law enforcement authority, a criminal justice agency, a juvenile justice agency, a community supervision and corrections department, or any other governmental entity. The bill makes such records obtained by a child custody evaluator confidential and exempt from disclosure under state public information law or from disclosure in response to a subpoena or a discovery request. The bill authorizes a child custody evaluator to disclose such information in the child custody evaluation report only to the extent that the evaluator determines that the information is relevant to the evaluation or a recommendation relating to the evaluation. The bill creates a Class A misdemeanor offense for a person who recklessly discloses such confidential information in violation of the bill’s provisions.
C.S.H.B. 1501 replaces the requirement for a person conducting a child custody evaluation to file with the court on a date set by the court a report containing the person’s findings and conclusions with the requirements that such a person file with the court on a date set by the court notice that the child custody evaluation report is complete and provide a copy of the report, on a specified date, to each party’s attorney, each party who is not represented by an attorney, and each attorney ad litem, guardian ad litem, and amicus attorney appointed in the suit. The bill specifies that the disclosure to the court of the contents of the report is subject to the rules of evidence.
C.S.H.B. 1501 amends the Government Code to entitle a child custody evaluator who has been appointed to conduct a child custody evaluation to obtain from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) criminal history record information that relates to a person involved in the evaluation. The bill requires DPS to provide the evaluator with the information not later than the 10th day after the date on which the information is requested and prohibits a child custody evaluator from releasing or disclosing the information to a person other than the court ordering the applicable evaluation, with certain exceptions.
September 1, 2017.