Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Children's Therapist Can Not Testify at Divorce Proceedings about Mother's Behavior

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Children's Therapist Can Not Testify at Divorce Proceedings about Mother's Behavior

Article excerpt

A court presiding over divorce proceedings in Virginia must consider the "mental condition of each parent" in making custody or visitation arrangements. At the same time, as in most states, statements made to a licensed mental health care provider by a client are privileged (i.e., the provider cannot testify regarding any information obtained while examining or treating a client without the client's permission). Formerly, this privilege was often disregarded during custody or visitation proceedings because the client was considered to have placed his or her mental condition at issue in these proceedings. However, a new law (VA. CODE [section] 20-124.3:1) was passed that limits the admissibility of mental health records in these proceedings.

In its first ruling on the scope of this new law, the Virginia Court Appeals held that this statute prevents the children's therapist from testifying about their mother's behavior even though the mother was not the client of the therapist. The mother had custody of the children but under Virginia law she is required to "foster" her children's relationship with their noncustodial parent. The children's therapist had testified that the mother during clinical sessions with the children had denigrated their father and as a result the trial court held the mother in contempt for this behavior. …

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