“Barbaric” Courts on Both Sides of the Pond

From The Daily Mail Online:        

                

Scandal of ‘unqualified’ experts who advise our family courts:

Decisions about the care of thousands of children routinely flawed

 

By Katherine Faulkner

Life-changing decisions about the care of thousands of children are routinely being made on flawed evidence from poorly qualified ‘experts’ in the family courts, a damning study reveals.

More than a fifth of these vital reports are being produced by people who are completely unqualified, the Channel 4 News investigation found.

‘Experts’ used in hundreds of family court proceedings are frequently unqualified or unreliable, the study reveals. In some cases, reports on parents or children are being given to courts by doctors who have not even seen the individuals concerned.  Until now, these ‘expert witnesses’ – often psychologists or psychiatrists – have largely escaped scrutiny due to the draconian secrecy surrounding the family courts.

But in a unique study for the Family Justice Council, Professor Jane Ireland – a forensic psychologist who has herself been an expert witness – examined over 100 expert witness reports used in family court cases. Incredibly, she found that 20 per cent had been produced by people who were not qualified at all. A further fifth had been carried out by people who were writing reports in areas entirely beyond their knowledge and qualifications.

In addition, as many as 90 per cent of the reports had been produced by ‘expert’ witnesses who were no longer in current practice at all, but were simply working as ‘professional expert witnesses’. Often, these professional experts – who rake in thousands of pounds in fees from the chaotic family courts system – have not practised for years, leaving them out of touch with developments in their field.

They are often appointed to assess the suitability of a parent or parents to continue to look after their child in care proceedings brought by local councils. They can also be used in access cases following the separation of a child’s parents. Thousands of children have their futures decided in the family courts every year and because of strict rules on what can be reported, often little is revealed about what happens once the court doors are closed.

In the past, parents have bitterly complained that they have not even been allowed to know the names of the paid expert witnesses who testified against them.

That has now changed but Professor Ireland, of the University of Central Lancashire, said 65 of the 100 reports she examined were ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ carried out.

Some reports were found to ‘cite opinion without conducting a formal assessment’ or show a complete lack of understanding of the conditions discussed. One was even found to have ‘completed an assessment on the mother without actually seeing her’.

Professor Ireland said an ‘urgent review’ of expert witnesses in the family courts was needed. ‘I think we were very concerned and perturbed by some of the reports that we read,’ she told Channel 4 News.

‘Some of the most startling results were the sheer number of expert psychologists . . . who are reporting that their entire job is the production of assessment reports for courts.

‘I think the results from the research are enough to suggest that we do need an urgent review across the range of expert witnesses that the courts are employing.’

The Family Justice Council is an independent public body set up in 2004 and funded by the Ministry of Justice. It is charged with monitoring the family justice system and advising the Government and the courts on how the system can be improved.

One mother involved in family court proceedings told how a psychiatrist who had never seen her wrote a 14-page report on her and her family. The day after the psychiatrist signed off his report he was suspended by the General Medical Council for a separate offence. Despite this, his report was still used by the courts.

‘He’s never seen us, never spoken to us,’ she said, ‘and yet he’s ended up writing 14 pages, with recommendations, that he could not possibly have made if he had spoken to any of us or had he read through the court papers.’

She said her custody case dragged on for five years because of the competing testimonies of no fewer than eight expert witnesses.

‘The court system in England is barbaric,’ she said. ‘It does not allow parents to be given a voice, it doesn’t allow their children to be given a voice.

‘But what it does instead is it focuses on employing expert witnesses – at huge expense.’

Nigel Priestley, a family solicitor in Huddersfield, said: ‘If the statistics are that 20 per cent are unqualified, that is not just a mess, that is staggering.’

The 9th Annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference Happening Now: Be There or Be Here :)

Or you can watch the conference on USTREAM and join us in the chat room 🙂

THE NINTH BATTERED MOTHERS CUSTODY CONFERENCE BMCC IX: IS WHAT WE’RE DOING WORKING?

FRIDAY EVENING, JANUARY 6TH, 2012

Registration beginning at 4:00 p.m.

6:00 Angela Shelton: Humorous Healing: You Could Use a Laugh Right Now! Angela shares funny stories along the healing path to inspire us all to laugh as we continue our fight for freedom and justice.

7:30 Lundy Bancroft: WHERE DO WE FIND STRENGTH TO FIGHT BACK? How does the human spirit keep itself alive? How do people who have suffered tragedies — or atrocities — get back up on their feet and move forward again? Lundy is going to look at what makes it possible for some people to rise up out circumstances where their defeat seems total, and fight their way back to thriving. These are the individuals who become the greatest thorns in the side of the powerful and the oppressive. He will suggest a road map for how all of us can become those Phoenixes.

Saturday Morning, January 7th 8:30 – 9:30

Plenary 1: Wendy Murphy: Rethinking Reform: New ideas and strategies for when the rules don’t work

9:30 – 10:30 Panel: Barry Goldstein, Moderator; Joan Zorza, Kathleen Russell, Rita Smith, Connie Valentine, Karen Anderson, Gabby Davis, & Eileen King: News from the Protective Mothers Movement You May Not Have Heard

Many exciting events have taken place in the last year which we hope will make a difference in changing the broken system. A panel of activists who have been involved in these events will discuss this news. It includes a roundtable discussion for OVW at the Justice Department, training in custody issues for the National DV Hotline, a new consortium that is in the process of forming to support our goals, marches and meetings in DC, new publications coming out and other events. The discussion should give our movement hope and opportunity.

10:30 – 10:45 Break

10:45 – 11:45 Plenary 2: Dr. Phyllis Chesler: Mothers STILL on Trial

Saturday Afternoon, January 7th 11:45 – 1:45 Working Lunch: BMCC Premier of Garland Waller’s New Documentary No Way Out But One This feature length (1 hr and 35 minutes) documentary looks at family court injustice by telling the story of Holly Collins, the first American woman to get asylum from the Dutch government on grounds of domestic violence. In 1994, Holly Collins became an international fugitive wanted by the FBI for kidnapping her own children. Ordered by a family court to turn her two children over to live with the father who had been abusing them all, Holly felt she had no way out but one. Only by kidnapping her children and running was Holly able to protect her children.

1:45– 2:00 Break

2:00 – 2:30 Gabby Davis and Loretta Frederick: Developing and Implementing a Conceptual Framework for Identifying, Understanding and Accounting for the Implications of Intimate Partner Abuse in Contested Child Custody Cases. Ample research, local practice, and lived experience collectively inform us that the safety and wellbeing of battered mothers and their children are not adequately accounted for in contested child custody cases where domestic violence is alleged. Very little systematic attention is paid to whether there is a history of abuse, whether the abuse is ongoing, who is abusing whom, what the abuse looks like, and how the abuse impacts the children, the abused parent, and the parenting capacities of both the abusive and the abused parent. Consequently, from an institutional standpoint, the family court system is often poorly organized to accurately identify and describe what is actually happening in people’s everyday lives so that it can respond in ways that are helpful, or at least not harmful, to the safety and wellbeing of battered mothers and their children. This presentation describes a collaborative effort by the Battered Women’s Justice Project, Praxis International, and a local jurisdiction in NW Ohio to develop and implement a concrete framework to help family court professionals better identify, understand and account for the context and implications of domestic violence in contested child custody cases.

2:30 – 3:00 Connie Valentine and Karen Anderson: Good News from the California Protective Parent Association As a growing coalition of 99% protective mothers groups, we are moving forward toward the common goal of keeping abused children safe when their parents separate and divorce. This workshop will review the movement’s accomplishments during the past year. Accurate definition is important: this is a civil and human rights movement. Come to the workshop, hear how far we have come, and share your accomplishments.

3:00 – 4:00 Karin Huffer: Is What We Are Doing Working? Yes…But Not Fast Enough –An Overlooked Powerful Focus for 2012 This presentation will discuss how mothers can learn to re-image themselves and their cases in a positive light. Women and children can take control of “impression management,” thus wiping out damage caused by their opponents. Effective but often unused laws and tools exist in the standard legal setting. Due to the wrong impression being sold to the court, mothers are beaten down, traumatized, marginalized by the batterer. However, through combining the ADA law with trauma treatment and political savvy, mothers are winning their cases.

4:00 – 4:15 Break

SATURDAY AFTERNOON BREAKOUT SESSIONS

4:15 – 5:15 Workshop Session 1

LEGAL ISSUES TRACK 1. Renee Beeker & Joshua Pampreen: Findings from the National Family Court Watch: Prelude to Publishing. We are so excited to be sharing with the BMCC our latest news and some inside information on the project. We also will provide copies of our abbreviated form for use for supportive court watch and will teach participants how to use it in conducting court watches.

2. Linda Marie Sacks: Strength in Numbers One day Linda Marie Sacks heard a mother being interviewed on television about the court taking away her children. It was a familiar tale and Sacks knew immediately that she too was a “Dr. Deborah O. Day Mom”. Now, Sacks works with “Day mothers” all over Florida. Combining forces with other mothers who have lost their children due to same court professionals is an important step. Teaming up to write complaints, comparing experiences and the emotional support offered by these partnerships are invaluable but finding these other parents can be difficult. RecordChronicle.com is seeking to identify these clusters.

PERSONAL HEALING TRACK

1. Michele Jeker: MST, PTSD and Domestic Violence in military life and after discharge Military Domestic Violence/Military Sexual Trauma This workshop will address the negative impacts of military life on the family, including the extreme pervasiveness of DV regardless of assignment, and the magnitude of the problems facing the military family. The military’s response to DV and the lack of judicial relief are among other topics we will be covering.

2. Raquel Singh: Healing Within and Without: How community and political activism are an essential part of the healing process This workshop examines how community-organizing benefits the healing process of survivors of domestic violence both individually and collectively. It will explore questions such as: • How does internalized oppression impact how a survivor interprets her abuse and others who have similar experiences? • Does this create a false separation between women who have been abused and those who experience sexism in other ways? • Does simply replacing the term “victim” with “survivor” really empower women to reclaim their lives? • How can we skillfully craft and integrate our personal stories into a wider social-political context as part of our organizing?

3. Maralee Mclean: Prosecuted But Not Silenced

 5:15 – 6:15 Workshop Session 2

LEGAL ISSUES TRACK

1. Wendy Murphy

2. Holly, Jennifer, & Zachary Collins: A Life on the Run In 1994 Holly Collins was determined to protect her children from a life of abuse. So she grabbed her own children and went on the run. She became an international fugitive, hunted by the FBI. Eventually, she and the kids became first American citizens to be granted asylum by the government of Netherlands. 17 years later, all charges have been dropped and Holly and her children have returned to the United States.

3. Sandy Bromley, DV-LEAP: Improving Outcomes for Battered Women and their Children: DV LEAP’s Custody & Abuse Project DV LEAP has recently entered in to a cooperative agreement with the federal Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), an agency of the US Department of Justice. Through specialized training and technical assistance, DV LEAP works to reduce the number of battered women losing custody of their children or being required by courts to turn over their children for unsafe visitation with an abusive parent. This presentation will review the goals and strategies of this cooperative agreement and allow participants an opportunity to provide feedback and ideas to the project manager. PERSONAL HEALING TRACK

4. Karin Huffer, Justin Huffer, & Crystal Huffer: Your Looking Glass Self: Making Sense of Court Rulings and Correcting Defeating Perceptions to Unlock Protective Mothers Justice in Your Case From being a nationally know expert and DV/ADA Advocate in court with battered mothers, I observe a common disastrous pattern that is rectifiable. • Lies damage mother dominating the case; • A correctable fundamental attribution error fills the record with false negatives toward mother making her a target; • Court appointees are influenced by coercive controlling, abusive mechanisms; • Mothers suffer diagnosable traumatic stress. Participants will learn to: • Re-image from fear to using properly postured emotion to achieve systems power; • Correct the court record with authority; • Counter lies without lying; • Engage legal help without going broke; • Influence the legal process.

5. Tammy Gagnon: No Longer Silent: From the Scars of Survival, We Reclaim Our Lives Those who have never experienced an abusive or violent relationship often believe that upon finding a way out, victim difficulties are solved: their life is good, they are safe, and recovery will be swift. However, survivors know that leaving is not the end of the nightmare — it is the beginning of an often difficult and challenging journey toward healing and happiness. They need practical guidance, emotional reassurance, and psychological awareness that survivors of relationship abuse and domestic violence need to heal and reclaim their lives after leaving their abusers.

SATURDAY EVENING, JANUARY 7TH

6:15 – 7:30 p.m. (Optional) Dinner at a special rate will be available in the hotel restaurant, so feel free to carry it out to attend the Organizing Session with Connie Valentine, Karen Anderson, & Kathleen Russell

7:30 – ? Welcome Home Party for Jennifer, Holly, & Zach Collins

SPECIAL SAT. EVENING WORKSHOP

8:00 – 9: 15 p.m. Nancy Erickson, J.D.: Filing an Ethical Complaint Against a Custody Evaluator: Do It Yourself Many battered women have lost custody of their children because a “custody evaluator” (sometimes called a “forensic”) has recommended that custody be given to the abusive father. Yet, in many cases, the custody evaluator was incompetent, unprofessional, or unethical – perhaps even taking bribes from the other side. A common example is a custody evaluator who believes all mothers try to alienate the children from the fathers. This will be a do-it-yourself workshop where participants will be guided through the process of filing licensing board complaints against these evaluators. If successful, it could have an effect on your case, and it might lead toward another valuable result — that the evaluator would never ruin the lives of more protective parents and their children.

SUNDAY MORNING, JANUARY 8TH

9:00 – 10:00 Plenary 3: Toby Kleinman

10:00 – 10:45 Barry Goldstein: From Poughkeepsie to Quincy: How to Save Thousands of Lives, Trillions of Dollars and Reform the Custody System. Barry Goldstein has written a new chapter based upon studying responses to domestic violence. He looked at the failure in Poughkeepsie that has resulted in ten deaths in a year and the success of the Quincy Model that led to no domestic violence homicide for many years. His investigation plus current research establishes that practices that could eliminate most domestic violence crime, a lot of other crime and save at least $500 Billion every year. In order to obtain these benefits the custody system will have to be reformed. He believes the huge financial savings and other benefits can be the incentive to create a different discussion about domestic violence custody issues.

10:45 – 11:00 Break

11:00 – 12:00 Workshop Session 3

LEGAL ISSUES TRACK

1. Michael Bassett, J.D. and Carol Pennington: Turning Around The Titanic Without Hitting an Iceberg: Battered Moms and Turnaround Cases Much like turning around a ship, turning around a custody case can be time-consuming, dangerous and draining. This presentation will discuss strategies that have been successful in past cases. Other topics that will be discussed include working with your attorney, changing attitudes through practicing law, the use of psychological experts, and the use of evidence of acts that may seem like it occurred “too far in the past.”

2. Liora Farkovitz: The Electronic Advantage: Understanding Technological Evidence This workshop is a companion to a technology guide, “Understanding Technological Evidence for the Legal Professional: 101 the Basics” which highlights the murder/suicide case of Katie Tagle of San Bernardino County, California in 2009/2010. Highlighting how the judiciary often ignores electronic evidence in domestic violence cases, the last 2/3 of the guide provides a step by step “basic” guide of current technology.

3. Dara Carlin, M.S.: Coloring Outside The Lines: Potential Solutions When The Ones In Place Aren’t Working If you have found your way to the BMCC, chances are the system that was designed to protect you and your children has failed you. Despite “coloring within the lines” (having followed all of the instructions and all the professional directions) you’re in a bad place and stuck with nowhere else to turn – NOT SO! This workshop will illustrate and explore some of the more creative things survivors and their allies have done when all solutions were exhausted and “acceptance” became the only one left.

PERSONAL HEALING TRACK

1. Louise Monroe: “WHEW”: Women Helping Empower Women This is the story of one family’s five year journey through that black hole known as “family court.” The evolution of this journey through the support and caring of others also traveling through this blackness and how all the negative in their lives was used is such a positive way that the journey has ended and the sun is shining brightly.

2. Chrys Ballerano: Nurturing Rhythms for Self Care- Experiencing the Healing Power of the Drum This is primarily an experiential workshop and interactive experience. An atmosphere of gentle safety will be maintained and modeled as Chrys provides participants with an opportunity to connect with themselves and their own innate sense of play. Therapeutic benefits of rhythmic drumming will briefly be discussed. Participants are welcome to bring their own percussive instrument. Sufficient instruments (enough for 40- 50 people) will be provided. This isn’t a workshop about “beating” drums but about connecting with our own heartbeat, and our own abilities to play in community and find ways to respond to the natural world. Come enjoy a circle of rhythm that is fun for all- no experience necessary!

12 Noon: Sunday Lunch with Jennifer Collins and Carly Singer: Abused Children to Children’s Advocates

2:00 p.m. Close

For Arbiters in Custody Battles, Wide Power and Little Scrutiny

 

 April 23, 2010 
  
 
 
Here’s an article that was published in the New York Times six years ago. You can click here to read it there. Useful as a resource to demonstrate the difference – or lack thereof –  between child abuse cases in family courts then and now.
 

  For Arbiters in Custody Battles, Wide Power and Little Scrutiny

 

By LESLIE EATON

Published: May 23, 2004

When warring parents head to court to fight over child custody in New York, their lawyers often let them in on a little secret: The most powerful person in the process is not the judge. It is not the other parent, not one of the lawyers, not even a child.
No, the most important person in determining who gets custody, and on what terms, is frequently a court-appointed forensic evaluator. Forensics, as they are often called, can be psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers; they interview the families and usually make detailed recommendations to judges, right down to who gets the children on Wednesdays and alternate weekends.And the judges usually go along.Forensic reports, which the parents pay for, can cost as much as $40,000 or even more. There are no standards for who can be an evaluator or what should go into an assessment. The court system does not track who gets these lucrative appointments, much less whether evaluators tend to favor fathers or mothers or joint custody.Some lawyers and parents suspect that cronyism plays a big role in some appointments, but given the secrecy surrounding matrimonial cases, that is hard to prove, or disprove. Others say there is nowhere to lodge complaints about mistreatment. And many — including some forensics — question whether there is any scientific basis to justify the evaluators’ recommendations.In Suffolk County, judges repeatedly appointed a psychologist who was not licensed to practice in New York State. In Manhattan, an evaluator remained on a case even though there was evidence that he had had business dealings with one spouse’s lawyer. In Westchester County, an expert charged parents $57,000 for a report that the judge found extremely biased toward the father.Though they have been around for years, court-appointed forensics have become increasingly commonplace — and controversial — in New York, which may be the high-conflict custody capital of the nation. But similar debates about custody evaluators are going on across the country, experts say, as divorce rates continue to rise and courts try to cope with the needs of children caught up in a contentious process.”It’s boiling over everywhere,” said Peter Salem, executive director of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, based in Madison, Wis.In Arizona, the governor recently signed a law changing the state’s process for investigating complaints about psychologists, in part because of controversy over forensic evaluations. In Louisiana, a committee of the state board governing social workers is considering creating standards for evaluations.And over the last few years, California has adopted a series of court rules that require training for forensics, set standards for evaluations and provide mechanisms for filing grievances against evaluators, said Philip M. Stahl, a psychologist and frequent lecturer on custody evaluations. “It’s the only state where the rules are very specific,” he said.In New York, forensics’ roles are being debated at judicial conferences, psychiatric conventions and impromptu meetings of disgruntled parents. Even the court system has decided to take another look at them, through a commission appointed in February by the state’s chief judge.Forensics “have really become arbiters of what happens in a case,” Raoul L. Felder, the divorce lawyer, said disapprovingly. “I just think somehow they’ve seeped into the judicial process.”Some people think that is as it should be. “With some exceptions, I didn’t try a contested custody case without a forensic assessment,” said Philip C. Segal, a former Family Court judge now in private practice. “They were extremely helpful, even critical.”Custody cases are difficult and emotionally fraught, he said, adding that judges need help “analyzing the family dynamics, analyzing the parents’ respective abilities.” Judges must decide custody cases based on the best interest of the child in question, and they can appoint a “neutral expert” whenever they think it would be helpful in making that decision.Some judges ask the parties’ lawyers to agree on a forensic or to provide a list of candidates; others simply name an evaluator. Some judges have very specific questions they want addressed; others just call for an evaluation. Many, though not all, want detailed recommendations.The American Psychological Association’s guidelines state that while evaluators may determine whether either parent has severe psychological problems, that is not their main goal. Rather, evaluators are supposed to judge the parties’ “parenting capacity” and how that fits the psychological needs of the child.Forensics themselves do not agree on how to conduct a proper examination. Some order psychological tests, while others avoid them; some interview baby sitters and teachers, while others do not.In the end, the evaluator gives the court a report that usually makes detailed recommendations about custody arrangements. The parents are not generally given copies; in some cases, they are not even allowed to read the reports.At that point, the parents usually settle, “which we would much prefer, for the parties’ sake,” said Justice Jacqueline W. Silbermann, the administrative judge for matrimonial matters in New York State. The reports’ usefulness in encouraging settlements is one reason judges order them, she said.But what pleases the judges sticks in the craw of some litigants, who say they feel bludgeoned into settling by a report that does not favor them, even when they believe that the report is deeply flawed. Some lawyers contend that the evaluations actually discourage settlements in certain cases because the favored party feels no need to compromise.The only way to challenge a forensic report is to go through a full trial and then cross-examine the evaluator; parties can also hire their own experts to critique the court-appointed forensic, but generally cannot have the family evaluated by someone else.In the meantime, judges are reading evaluators’ reports and making decisions based on them, with no way to know whether the observations and conclusions are correct, said William S. Beslow, a prominent matrimonial lawyer in Manhattan.”In eight years, I have not participated in a case with a forensic report that was not substantially erroneous in one of its major conclusions,” Mr. Beslow said. “And some are so wrong that they have disastrous consequences for families.”Underlying all the concerns about forensic evaluators is the question of whether they are offering the court scientific expertise or unsubstantiated opinions.Jeffrey P. Wittmann, a forensic who has done hundreds of evaluations, says that his colleagues have been giving the courts both, and that they should stick to the scientific evidence. Dr. Wittmann, co-director of the Center for Forensic Psychology in Albany, said he stopped making specific recommendations to judges six years ago, and has urged colleagues to do the same.The reason, he said, is that forensics do not really know, with any degree of certainty, what is in a child’s best interest. Little scientific research on the subject exists.Forensics do provide courts with useful information, he said, but drawing conclusions about the child’s best interest and making recommendations on custody and on visiting is inappropriate, even unethical. “We have become like mini-judges,” he added, “and it’s a big mistake.”Among psychiatrists and psychologists, Dr. Wittmann’s argument is far from the most extreme. William O’Donohue, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, is calling for a moratorium on forensic evaluations until more research is done.”Psychologists don’t have the knowledge to do what they attempt to do when they do custody evaluations,” he said.Many custody decisions, he said, involve not scientific findings, but competing values, like a father’s wish that his child excel in sports versus the mother’s emphasis on studying.While mental health experts have been debating these issues for several years, the legal world has been slower to recognize them, at least in New York.Enter Timothy M. Tippins, an Albany lawyer who increasingly specializes in cross-examining forensic experts. For almost a year, Mr. Tippins has been writing articles in The New York Law Journal questioning the role and expertise of forensic evaluators in custody cases. He has teamed up with Dr. Wittmann to write a paper titled “Empirical and Ethical Problems With Custody Recommendations: A Call for Clinical Humility and Judicial Vigilance.”Among its recommendations is a call for judges to “begin to help the psychology discipline rein in itself” by not demanding or accepting specific custody plans.In March and April, the two presented their arguments to conferences of New York State judges; later this year, they will speak to judges at the state’s appellate level.Some judges have welcomed his arguments, Mr. Tippins said. “I think they had on their antennae that something was amiss with these reports.”In part as a response to Mr. Tippins, Dr. Alex Weintrob organized a symposium on the scientific basis of expert testimony in matrimonial disputes at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting this month in Manhattan.Dr. Weintrob, a well-known child psychiatrist who does evaluations, said later that “there is more science than some people give us credit for.” On the other hand, he added, “it is important that we be aware of our limitations,” citing as an example the lack of follow-up studies to see if forensics’ predictions worked out. “We all know it and are a little embarrassed by it.”Even proponents of forensic evaluations are troubled by the secrecy that envelops the business, and the large sums of money that change hands, by order of the court.”It’s an industry, and it’s unregulated, and it affects precious family rights,” said Andrew I. Schepard, director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law at Hofstra University. “It would be lots better if this process were more transparent.”The secrecy alone raises questions in the minds of some parents. One woman, a Manhattan financial analyst who spoke on the condition that her name not be used because her court case is continuing, said she had heard from other parents that the evaluator in her case had a history of recommending that custody go to fathers. But, she complained, there is no way to know for sure.In Kaye v. Kaye, an extremely bitter divorce case in Manhattan, the mother discovered that her court-appointed forensic had participated in a business venture with four other people involved in her case, including her ex-husband’s lawyer.This gave her grave doubts about how neutral he truly was, she said, speaking on the condition that her first name not appear in print. Judges are required to disclose their ties, she said, “and the same should be true of neutral officers of the court.”Justice Judith J. Gische denied the woman’s request for a mistrial, ruling that the business — a limited partnership with a divorce-related Web site called SoftSplit.com, now defunct — was a for-profit educational venture, and that the lawyers, forensics and others involved were not “in business” together. An appeal of that decision is pending.But the conflict-of-interest allegations about SoftSplit, which were reported by The New York Post last year, are still stirring up such hard feelings among lawyers and forensics that Donald Frank, the lawyer for the mother, refused to discuss the case.Few parents are willing to talk publicly about their experiences for fear of seeing painful family matters aired in the press, or of being dragged by into court by the other parent. They also say they are often dismissed as disgruntled litigants who are angry that the evaluator did not favor them (which, of course, they often are).The American Psychological Association’s ethics committee reports that a rising percentage of the complaints it receives involve forensic evaluations. And Dr. Spencer Eth, a member of the ethics committee of the American Psychiatric Association, said local branches of his group also investigate many complaints about forensic evaluations. While such complaints seldom result in a psychiatrist’s being suspended or removed from the association, he said, doctors are sometimes reprimanded or educated about the proper way to conduct evaluations.The association takes on this role in part, he said, because state licensing boards tend to be ill-equipped to deal with problems that crop up in psychiatric practices, including some that are almost etiquette issues: a doctor’s rudeness, for example, or his failure to return telephone calls.New York’s court system does not have a formal mechanism for receiving complaints about forensics, and because they are officers of the court, they cannot be sued for malpractice.The rules governing matrimonial matters are being re-examined by a commission appointed by the state’s chief judge, Judith S. Kaye.The commission will examine the role and use of forensic examiners, said Justice Sondra Miller, the appellate division judge who is leading the group. After holding public hearings, she said, it will make recommendations to Judge Kaye, probably in about a year.In the meantime, however, some lawyers say they believe that judges are becoming more skeptical about forensic reports, and may use them a little less. One such lawyer is Norman M. Sheresky, who represented a mother who prevailed in a Manhattan court despite an evaluator’s recommendation in favor of the father. The judge tossed out the report’s findings as biased, he said.”I think that will happen more and more,” Mr. Sheresky said. “I think the judges are getting wise.”