Child Custody and Mental Health in Pennsylvania

A very recent case from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that in child custody proceedings, the court may not force a party to give to the court or the other party his/her mental health records. The court also can not compel a party to the custody case to sign a release so others, including the other party, can obtain his/her mental health records. This decision was based in part on the HIPAA federal law concerning the privacy of one’s medical records.

It appears that the “best interest of the child” standard does not trump the privacy a person is entitled to concerning his/her medical and mental health records, at least not in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Superior Court added that there are less intrusive ways for a court to evaluate a party’s/parent’s mental health status such as a mental health examination pursuant to Pa. R. C. P. 1915.8 in a court custody case. Interestingly, however, the implication of this case would extend to a mental health professional who undertakes a mental health examination of a parent under Pa. R. C. P. 1915.8. If so, a custody court judge would also not be able to force the disclosure of such records by a parent of that parent’s mental health records to the evaluator.

This may be the catalyst for more attorneys who try child custody cases in Pennsylvania to undertake having a mental health professional perform a custody and/or psychological evaluation as part of the legal process. Doing so may be the best was to prove and establish exiting mental health deficiencies in a parent who is otherwise not fit for custody and/or not fit for the type and amount of custody they seek. Feel free to contact the Pennsylvania family law attorneys to discuss your case.