Depression and mental illness are real health problems that are often stigmatized in American society. At the same time, it’s important for parents who suffer from mental health disorders to recognize they have a problem and prevent it from negatively affecting their children.
In a custody dispute, mental health can be a delicate subject. If you believe a spouse or former spouse suffers with a mental health condition, you may wish to restrict his or her access to your children. A Miami child custody lawyer can help you decide what’s best in your case.
Mental Health by the Numbers
Mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder, are startlingly common in the United States. In fact, one in five adults experiences a mental illness. About 10 million American adults suffer with a mental health disorder that substantially interferes with everyday life.
You can read more about mental health statistics at the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Unfortunately, people who experience mental health problems don’t always receive the treatment they need. According to Psychology Today, prejudicial attitudes toward people with psychiatric conditions persist in the U.S. despite growing awareness of these disorders.
Also, people with mental health challenges often self-stigmatize, which stops them from acknowledging they have a problem that requires therapy or treatment.
When a Parent Has a Mental Health Problem
Divorce cases and custody disputes can be contentious enough without one parent drawing attention to the other parent’s mental health.
Sometimes, one parent is even reluctant to raise the issue, as they worry that putting a spotlight on the problem will exacerbate their ex’s disorder or cause them to unnecessarily prolong the case.
On the other hand, the best interests of the children are the top priority in any custody dispute. If a parent legitimately believes the other parent is unfit due to a mental health problem, he or she shouldn’t ignore it.
Piercing the Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege
In Florida, as in many other states, communication between a mental health professional and a patient are protected – something known as the psychotherapist-patient privilege.
The privilege covers treatment records and notes, as well as written and verbal communication between patient and therapist. However, there are important exceptions to this general rule.
In family law cases, courts use a balancing test to determine whether a parent’s mental health treatment records are admissible in court. It’s generally not enough for one parent to simply claim the other parent has a mental health issue or is simply difficult to work with.
To pierce the psychotherapist-patient privilege, the court must weigh the patient’s privacy interests against what is best for the couple’s children.
Additionally, the alleged mental health issue must have a direct impact on a parent’s fitness. Courts have ruled that a parent’s past mental health problems aren’t enough to admit treatment records.
Instead, the parent asking the court to admit the other parent’s treatment records must show that a “calamitous event” has happened while the custody case is in progress.
For example, a parent’s suicide attempt may cause the court to order the treatment records admitted into evidence. The court may also allow the privilege to be pierced in cases where a parent’s mental health issues prevent him or her from caring properly for the child.
Getting a Psychological Evaluation
In the absence of a calamitous event, or in cases where the court has otherwise refused to allow the introduction of mental health treatment records, a parent can ask the court to order a psychological evaluation conducted by an independent therapist.
Because this type of evaluation is carried out specifically for the custody case, the report is not protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege.
Do You Have Questions about Mental Health in Your Custody Case?
As a parent, you want to protect your child – even if that means asking the court to restrict your ex-spouse’s visitation. It’s important to handle these cases in the right way. Call a Miami child custody lawyer to learn more.