As a member of a newly formed commission, Joan S. Meier, Professor of Clinical Law and Director of the National Family Violence Law Center at GW Law, will contribute to efforts to reshape the forensic custody evaluation process in the state of New York.
Professor Meier was recently named by Governor Andrew Cuomo as a member of his Blue-Ribbon Commission on Forensic Custody Evaluations, which is charged with developing recommendations regarding how forensic custody evaluations should be used in the New York state court system. The Commission was formed in response to concerns about family court proceedings raised last year in the NY Governor's Commission on Domestic Violence and COVID-19.
"Family Court judges are responsible for making decisions that often have life-altering impacts on the individuals who appear before them," Governor Cuomo said in a press release. "It is critical that judges have the most comprehensive, reliable information on which to base those decisions, especially when it comes to determining the best environment for a child."
The Commission’s work will address issues of quality and equity. "I think this Commission is incredibly important and potentially groundbreaking," Professor Meier said. "Problems with custody evaluators in contested custody cases, especially those involving abuse allegations, are ubiquitous, particularly where the litigants have funds to pay for these private professionals"
"The hope is that the Commission will both articulate some of the problems and recommend some practical solutions for adoption by the Governor," Professor Meier continued. "My personal hope is that the rest of the country will also be able to benefit from this effort."
Professor Meier has been a clinical law professor for 29 years at GW Law, where she founded three pioneering and nationally recognized interdisciplinary domestic violence clinical programs, including the National Family Violence Law Center. She has published widely on domestic violence, custody, clinical teaching, criminal procedure, and various Supreme Court decisions. She also founded and helped direct the national non-profit Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) for over 15 years.
According to Professor Meier, GW Law’s platform and venue for her research, advocacy, and teaching, played an important role in her invitation to join the Commission. Professor Meier is the only member not from New York. "Having an academic appointment has enabled me to receive critical grant funding that fueled my cutting-edge empirical research, and that research, in turn, has garnered attention and awareness across the family law and practice fields," Professor Meier said. "The Commission appears to value my role as an academic with national perspective and research expertise."
In addition to being named to the Commission, Professor Meier was also recently awarded the 2021 Outstanding Professional Award from American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC). The award recognizes an APSAC member who has made "outstanding contributions to the field of child maltreatment and the advancement of APSAC’s goals."
Upon notification of her receipt of the award, Professor Meier was thrilled. "One of the missions of the National Family Violence Law Center at GW Law is to bridge the gap between the domestic violence and child maltreatment fields, and that is why I was especially excited to be honored by APSAC," said Professor Meier. "I am not a child maltreatment specialist but their recognition that my work is significant to that field is a perfect embodiment of the 'bridging' work I am trying to do."