Indiana Child Custody Cases and Mental Health Records Admissibility

Indiana Child Custody Cases and Mental Health Records Admissibility

Indiana child custody cases and mental health records admissibility questions often converge. When two parties are in a custody dispute, the mental health of the parties can come into play. The issue for the court hearing the dispute is whether to admit mental health records in custody cases. An Indiana child custody lawyer can help you navigate the conflicting priorities of mental health and child custody in Indiana.

Factors in Indiana Child Custody Cases and Mental Health Records Protections

The difficulty in determining admissibility of mental health records in Indiana child custody disputes arises because the court must weigh the best interests of the children in the custody dispute against the necessity to protect the relationship between the psychologist, or other mental health provider, and the patient.

The Privilege of Privacy in Mental Health Treatment

In Collins v. Bair, 256 Ind. 230, 268 N.E.2d 95, 98, (Ind. 1971), the Indiana Supreme Court noted that the purpose of the psychologist-patient privilege is to protect the confidential communications between a psychologist and patient. Without the privilege, the theory is that a patient will be less willing to divulge confidential information for fear of having the confidential communication exposed in court.

The psychologist-patient privilege is codified at I.C. § 25-33-1-17 and states that “[a] psychologist . . . may not disclose any information acquired from persons with whom the psychologist has dealt in a professional capacity[.]” Mental health records in custody cases, however, are subject to additional factors which determine admissibility.

Indiana Child Custody Cases and Mental Health: Exceptions to Privacy Privileges

There are exceptions to psychologist-patient privilege that allow for the admissibility of mental health records in Indiana courts. For example, in certain circumstances, the law revokes the confidentiality privilege, in which case a psychologist can disclose information received from patients.

In Shaw v. Shelby County Department of Public Welfare, 612 N.E.2d 557, 558 (Ind. 1993), the Indiana Supreme Court held that these types of privileges are abrogated in proceedings to terminate parental rights. And in Ross v. Delaware County Department of Public Welfare, 661 N.E.2d 1269, (Ind. 1996), Indiana has further found that the psychologist-patient privilege is not applicable in cases adjudicating children as children in need of services.

Admissibility of Mental Health Records in Indiana Child Custody Cases

In a custody dispute, the court determines custody based on a number of factors. Among those factors the court must consider is the mental and physical health of the relevant parties in the case.

The inclusion of this factor necessarily puts the parties’ mental health at issue in cases regarding child custody in Indiana. Because mental health is in dispute, evidence of the parties’ mental health is may be disclosed and admitted into evidence in custody modification proceedings. Mental health and child custody must be considered together to assure that a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child is implemented.

Determining child custody in Indiana involves proceedings similar to determining whether parental rights are terminated or children are in need of services. The court will examine factors and determine what is in the best interests of the child.

Because of the similarities between the proceedings and the relevance of a parties’ mental health, courts would likely determine that mental health records are both discoverable and admissible in child custody hearings.

Navigating the Issues Related to Indiana Child Custody Cases and Mental Health

While the psychologist-patient privilege is an important privilege to protect, it is typically outweighed by the need to determine the best interests of the child in a custody proceeding. When a court is hearing Indiana child custody cases and mental health records come into play, it is likely that the court will find that mental health records are discoverable and admissible. If you are involved in a dispute of child custody in Indiana and need an Indiana child custody lawyer to help, please call Camden & Meridew, P.C. at (317) 770-0000 and one of our attorneys will be happy to assist you.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for the informative article. I had an adoption case last year in which the judge permitted the release and subsequent introduction of the children’s and petitioner’s mental health records. It’s a tough call, because you want people to confide in their therapists and medical providers only to have the records used in court. The good thing is that adoption records are sealed from public access, so only the attorneys and judge had access to the records.

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