Everyday conversation is (unfortunately) littered with references to mental health. We routinely call people crazy, nuts, and cray-cray. We claim our spouse is a loon, a nutcase, a psychopath, or a sociopath. These may work in casual chatter but mean nothing in a court of law. Mental health evaluations are often pivotal parts of child custody and other family law cases and should be treated with respect.

Start with a Clean Bill of Health

Mental health evaluations may be ordered by a Virginia court if the petitioning party (your attorney) provides good cause for the examination. The person being evaluated could be either parent or any child in the family.

Mental health evaluations, says the Virginia State Bar, should never be used as a threat in litigation. Say you are vying with your spouse for child custody. You may hear that getting your kids into therapy will lay the groundwork for claiming their mother is unfit, that they are traumatized.

What. A. Terrible. Idea.

Do not saddle your children with a health record that includes psychotherapy and treatment or medication for anxiety or depression, all in hopes of getting custody of them. Only use a request for a mental health evaluation when your spouse shows clear signs of mental crisis, or when your children show symptoms of having endured a trauma.

Start with a clean bill of health when dealing with your family law case and your attorney. Avoid underhanded tactics, and if your attorney suggests twisting mental health issues as an aggressive strategy, find a better attorney.

Mental Health Evaluation vs. Custody Evaluation

A mental health evaluation is not the same as a custody evaluation. Some attorneys, offered the convenience, speed, and relative cheapness of the mental health evaluation, will try to turn it into a custody evaluation.

This could happen on either side of your family law case. You should not suggest such a move and should push back against your attorney for suggesting it. If your spouse tries it, your spouse has exposed a vulnerability. As the State Bar notes,

“… arguing that a parent can or cannot adequately parent due to the results of their Psychological Evaluation (with or without a Parenting Capacity Evaluation) is an overreaching approach that could cause additional pain and harm to a parent and family and lead to a bad outcome.”

Under the Magnifying Glass

What exactly are mental health evaluations? In Virginia, a forensic mental health examiner might interview your children, your spouse, or you using any or all of these instruments:

  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2nd Edition (MMPI 2) — Assesses and diagnoses mental illness using a 90-minute test aimed at identifying abnormal behavior across 10 categories
  • Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-3rd Edition (MCMI-III) — This 30-minute test probes for personality disorders and clinical syndromes; it reveals the test taker’s personality and coping mechanisms
  • Rorschach Inkblot Method — Yes, it is still used, and no, it’s not what you think; the inkblots do not have “right” answers but are used to allow a test taker to freely associate and reveal personality characteristics, emotional functioning, and internal conflicts
  • Beck Depression Inventory- 2nd Edition (BDI-I1) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) — These two tests help determine if a test taker displays symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI) —  If the test taker has been a victim of spousal abuse, childhood abuse, rape, physical assault, combat experience, a major accident, natural disaster, or other traumatic event, this inventory helps mental health professionals catalog symptoms

Using a Mental Health Evaluation in Open Court

The test results of a mental health evaluation can be used as evidence in open court only to the limits of discovery set out by the Supreme Court of Virginia, specifically Rule 4:1 (b)(5), “Limitations on Discovery in Certain Proceedings.” That means your child’s innermost fears, demons, and secrets will probably never appear in a court record. Yours or your spouse’s? They probably will be entered as evidence.

And, under Virginia Code § 20-124.2, the court has the authority to order the mental health evaluation whether either adult in the proceeding wants it or not:

  1. In any case in which custody or visitation of minor children is at issue, whether in a circuit or district court, the court may order an independent mental health or psychological evaluation to assist the court in its determination of the best interests of the child. The court may enter such order as it deems appropriate for the payment of the costs of the evaluation by the parties.

If you and your attorney are developing a strategy to gain child custody, build your case respectfully and protectively, so your children are not made vulnerable by the misuse of mental health evaluations.

In all family law matters, sensitivity and discretion are important. Trust The Firm For Men to handle every aspect of your family law matter with the utmost professionalism. Contact us today so we can go to work protecting your rights, your assets, and your physical and mental well being. You may also telephone our Virginia Beach offices at (757) 383-9204.