Psychological Evaluations and Modification of Custody

Family Law and Psychiatric History

At the outset of any family law representation, experienced attorneys inquire as to any documented psychiatric history of the participants to evaluate a custody case.  Even in the absence of historical psychiatric treatment of any kind, undiagnosed conditions – when properly explored through discovery and presented at trial – may indeed play a role in a Court’s determination of an appropriate parenting plan for a minor child of divorce.

General Statutes

Pursuant to General Statutes §§ 46b-3 and 46b-6, the Superior Court may require the parties and the child to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation for the purpose of properly disposing of a family matter, in a modification of custody case, and to assist in determining the best interest of the child. See, e.g., Pascal v. Pascal, 2 Conn. App. 472, 478-79, 481 A.2d 68 (1984). General Statutes § 46b-6 provides in relevant part that the court “may cause an investigation to be made with respect to any circumstance of the matter which may be helpful or material or relevant to a proper disposition of the case. Such investigation may include an examination of the parentage and surroundings of any child, his age, habits and history, inquiry into the home conditions, habits and character of his parents or guardians and evaluation of his mental or physical condition. In any action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation or annulment of marriage such investigation may include an examination into the age, habits and history of the parties, the causes of marital discord and the financial ability of the parties to furnish support to either spouse or any dependent child (emphasis added).”  General Statutes § 46b-3 provides that the judge in any family relations matter may employ the use of a psychologist, psychiatrist or family counselor in carrying out such an evaluation.

Custody Disputes & Mental Health

However, a parent should not assume that a mere dispute over custody is in and of itself equivalent to putting one’s mental health at issue in the case, in a manner which would necessarily result in the ordering of psychological evaluations. While there is no specific Supreme Court ruling on this issue (see Bieluch v. Bieluch, 190 Conn. 813, 819, 462 A.2d 1060 (1983)) courts have nevertheless held that so many issues must be assessed in a custody determination, that one discrete issue – such as a parent’s mental health – must not overtake the determination. Granbery v. Carleton, 1993 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3444. Instead, courts have determined that the conduct of the parties – rather than their mental status – must be the primary focus of the court in assessing the extent and quality of involvement of each parent in the life of the child.

Whether pursuing or defending a modification of child custody where psychiatric issues are present, parents are best served by consulting with attorneys proficient in family law matters.  For confidential inquiries or further information concerning this posting, please contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya at 203-221-3100 or jmaya@mayalaw.com, to schedule a free initial consultation.