- by Melody Swilling
Sadly, a stigma still exists in the United States about mental health—enough to prevent many people from seeking treatment. In fact, you may even feel that seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist for legitimate mental health issues may hurt your divorce or child custody case. Basically, you may believe that a judge will apply the same stigma to your case that often exists in society—that people with mental illness have something “wrong” with them—and that you are not mentally equipped to take care of your children as well as your spouse.
Fortunately, your fears are far from the truth. Let’s defeat this myth from a couple of perspectives.
- You have a legal confidential relationship with your mental healthcare providers. One of the most protected relationships under Georgia law is your relationship with your mental health provider—and for good reason. As a society, we have a vested interest in helping people get access to mental health professionals for a tune up, traumatic event, or ongoing preventative care. This legal confidentiality—similar to medical and attorney confidentiality—encourages you to actively reach out to your therapist and address any of your problems ranging from a safe zone for venting to battling addictions.
- If your spouse tells the judge that you've gone to see a mental health professional, that information isn't automatically a bad judgement against you. Despite confidentiality, your spouse may use his or her knowledge that you've gone to see a mental health professional as evidence against you. However, what you discussed and the impressions you left with your psychiatrist will typically remain confidential. Just because your spouse relates the fact that you have a weekly standing appointment for therapy or to monitor your antidepressants will not typically work against you in a custody case. In fact, showing the court that you are staying on top of your mental health (instead of remaining undiagnosed or ignoring a treatment plan) can work well in your favor as a sign of responsibility.
In only a few instances will details about your mental health emerge in a way that may harm your case, such as
- Undergoing a psychological evaluation under a court's order by a court appointed child custody evaluator, such as a Guardian Ad Litem. However, this is an independent psychological evaluation. The child custody evaluator will not ask for confidential information from your mental health provider.
- Giving express permission for someone to access your mental health records, such as your attorney.
- Calling your own psychiatrist to testify in court on your behalf.
Even in those instances, your mental health information can be used strategically to make sure that you’re not hurting your case. It helps to have an experienced attorney on your side to make sure that you share the right amount of information, in the right way. Otherwise, know that seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist will in most situations not hurt your case in the eyes of the judge.
Contact us if you have additional questions about how your mental health information might help or hurt your divorce or child custody case.