Crazy Christmas

Can the judge force my spouse to take a psychological evaluation?

The holiday season can be magical and satisfying, but it can also produce stress as well as strain on family relationships. With emotions already running high, people may not be on their best behavior. Sometimes, a person’s actions or words may raise concerns about their mental stability.

When that person is a parent with custody or visitation rights, erratic or otherwise troublesome behavior may cause the other parent to fear that emotional or mental problems could put the minor children at risk in the troubled parent’s care. Florida law and courts have a lot to say about requesting a court order for someone to undergo a psychological evaluation.

One important court opinion analyzing the legal standards for such a request is the 2013 case of Wade v. Wade from the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida. There, the appeals court quashed (stopped) that part of the trial court’s order that the mother submit to a psychological evaluation because the father had not met the legal standards under applicable court rules.

Is the person’s mental state in controversy?

First, a party asking a Florida court to order another party to submit to a medical evaluation must show that the party in question’s condition is “in controversy.” Some of the ways Florida courts have described a mental condition being in controversy include:

  • The condition directly involves a “material element” or defense in the case.
  • The controversy over the medical condition is genuine and true.
  • The alleged mental condition could make the person “unfit” to parent.

The court said that a child custody dispute alone is not enough to propel a parent’s mental condition into controversy – a psychological exam is not automatic in custody matters. Rather, the parent’s mental problems to be in controversy must have the potential to “substantially impact his or her ability to property raise children.”

One reason the appeals court felt the trial court did not really think the mother’s condition made her unfit in the Wade case was that the trial court allowed the mother to continue visitation with the children despite having ordered the exam.

Is there good cause for compelling a mental evaluation?

Second, the party seeking an order for a psychological evaluation must also show “good cause” to do so because an exam would significantly infringe on the parent’s privacy rights. Even if the mental condition is in controversy, there must be good cause to get expert evaluation because without a medical expert’s opinion, the person’s mental condition “cannot adequately be evidenced.” The Wade court also noted that “good cause” should be supported by evidence the parent has not been able to meet the child’s needs or preserve their well-being.

If the requesting party does not show both the “in controversy” and the “good cause” requirements, the Florida court does not have an adequate legal basis to order a compulsory mental (or physical) exam.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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