Texas Family Law Changes in the 85th Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature closed its biannual session for 2017. Although a Special Session may be called by Governor Abbott, it will not affect any Family Law issues. The Legislature did pass several bills that impact Texas Family Law. Here is one.

Child Custody Evaluation

The statute dealing with Child Custody Evaluations was revised this year. A significant change now offers more protection to child custody evaluators from being liable for civil damages arising out of the evaluator’s actions, recommendations made or opinion given in their capacity as a child custody evaluator. These protections have been in place for a guardian ad litem, attorney ad litem, and amicus attorneys for some time now. Finally those protections have been extended to evaluators.

As anyone who has ever been involved in a child custody case knows, someone is always unhappy with the conclusions in a child custody evaluation. Many good evaluators have chosen not to continue conducting child custody evaluations because they don’t want to get sued for doing their job and making a recommendation that someone doesn’t like.

Various other changes were made to the statute dealing primarily with how child custody evaluations are to be conducted and what actions the evaluator must take in order to comply with the statute. The statute also provides that the evaluator himself or herself may request additional orders from the court under certain circumstances. In the past, one of the attorneys for a party in the case was required to seek additional orders from the court on behalf of the evaluator.

The statute further gives the child custody evaluator access to records from various law enforcement entities relating to anyone that is residing in a residence subject to the child custody evaluation. Now, the evaluator may obtain a criminal history from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The statute also provides very specific methods by which the child custody evaluator may disclose the confidential information they obtain under this provision and imposes a severe penalty for the reckless disclosure of the confidential information.

The true effect of these changes remains to be seen, but you can be sure that they will be well received by child custody evaluators, knowing that they can make what they believe to be an unpopular recommendation without fear of being sued by the disgruntled party.