Mental Health Records in Custody Proceedings

During custody proceedings, including divorce, Tennessee courts have a duty to protect the best interests of children. Courts must also respect patient privacy and encourage individuals to seek treatment. When one parent alleges that another parent has mental health issues, Courts balance the interests of the children and the privacy of parents. The Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed these concerns in the case of Culbertson v. Culbertson, 455 S.W.3d 107 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014).

The Culbertson allegations.

The mother alleged that she should be named as the primary residential parent. The mother alleged that the father had a history of mental health issues, including depression. In response to the allegations, the father denied that he was incapable of caring for the minor children. He also agreed to submit to a mental health evaluation by a licensed psychologist. Pursuant to Tennessee law, a party can agree to a Rule 35 health evaluation.

The psychologist concluded that the father did not represent a threat of harm to his minor children. He also agreed that father should be permitted to have regular parenting time with his minor children. Not satisfied, the mother requested that the father submit to a second evaluation. Additionally, she also asked for all of his mental health records from each and every mental health professional.

The mother argued that it was necessary to have all of father’s records to challenge the findings from the first evaluation. She also argued it was necessary to demonstrate father’s mental health status to the court. Father argued that Tennessee protects the confidential records of individuals pursuant to a psychologist-patient privilege. As such, mother could not access the records.

After this, father and mother submitted to a joint evaluation by a second psychologist. During this second evaluation, the father permitted the psychologist to discuss the case with prior mental health practitioners. Ultimately, the second psychologist agreed with the conclusions of the first evaluation. Specifically, father did not represent a threat of harm to his minor children. The second evaluation concluded that father should enjoy regular time with his children. After this, mother requested all of father’s personal, confidential mental health records again.

The Court’s conclusions.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals mostly agreed with father. Specifically, the Court of Appeals concluded that it is vital to protect the psychologist-patient privilege in Tennessee. The rationale of the Court was that individuals should be open and honest with their mental health professionals. Further, the Court reasoned that if the mother gained access to father’s records, mental health treatment would be discouraged.

The Court further reasoned that there was no need for mother to gain access because two psychologists had evaluated father. They both agreed that he did not represent a threat of harm to his minor children. As such, the submission to a Rule 35 evaluation struck a balance between the best interests of the minor children and father’s privacy. As such, if you are concerned that your spouse or a parent of your children may represent a threat of harm to your child or children, contact a family lawyer Memphis, TN trusts.


Wiseman Bray Attorneys

If you are considering filing for divorce, or have other family law related questions, and need counsel to discuss family law issues, call or schedule a consultation with our family lawyer Memphis, TN attorneys at Wiseman Bray PLLC today.  Call our office at (901) 372-5003 to ask for a consultation!

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