Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) – A bill setting the standard in Louisiana family court passed by the state legislature to provide mental health evaluations in divorce and child custody proceedings.
House Bill 272 passed the House Chambers unanimously with a 94-0 vote.
“The change that it makes in custody evaluation cases does two things. One, it requires when the court appoints someone to do an evaluation, either for domestic violence or for custody or for access visitation, it requires that person to be licensed,” family law attorney Randy Fuerst said.
Fuerst explained many court systems, like in Calcasieu Parish, already abide by that standard. However, the passing of this bill will now make it law throughout the state.
“We want qualified. We want highly educated people,” Fuerst said.
The bill states a licensed mental health professional as “a person who possesses at least a master’s degree and who is licensed in counseling, social work, psychology, marriage and family counseling, or exempt from licensing requirements.”
The other thing HB272 supports is a stop to ex-parte communication, Fuerst said again, this is already practiced by many.
“We already don’t allow the lawyer to, or a party to contact the other side and talk to them about, or talk to the evaluator about the case,” Fuerst said.
In the session, Rep. Patrick Jefferson explained an amendment made to this part of the bill.
“It clarified that there are some instances where the professional would need to talk to the child and the parent so that gives the exception in the ex parte aspect,” Jefferson said.
Fuerst said he’s in full support of the bill, saying it helps set this standard of quality, especially when dealing with a child’s future in custody proceedings. Though he said this shouldn’t change the process of the court.
“It’s still the judges job to be the gatekeeper,” Fuerst said. “The judge doesn’t have to listen to the expert opinion and rely completely on it. It’s the judges decision to determine in the end the ultimate best interest of the child in these cases.”
The bill now awaits Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signature.
Copyright 2022 KPLC. All rights reserved.