Courtroom of Enchantment prohibits the psychological well being information of fogeys in custody instances

May 28 – A Lackawanna County judge made a mistake in ordering a mother to release her mental health records in connection with a custody battle with her child’s father, the state Supreme Court ruled.

In a precedent ruling, the court said Judge Julia Munley’s order violated women’s privacy rights under the Mental Health Act, which prohibits the release of confidential records without the patient’s consent.

The case focused on whether a Guardian Ad Litem – an attorney appointed to represent the child and ensure their best interests are protected in controversial custody cases – could review the records to determine if the mother was an appropriate parent was.

The mother’s attorney, Robert Buttner of Scranton, said the ruling was a major victory for people seeking mental health services. If the court had confirmed the order, this would have a “deterrent effect” on the parents’ willingness to treat.

“There is a stigma about seeking mental health treatment,” said Buttner. “This protects people who seek treatment from the fear that one day they might have a custody case in which their confidential statements could be used against them.”

According to a written statement from the Higher Regional Court: The father filed an urgent application for custody in August 2019 because he had accused the mother of unpredictable behavior. The mother filed a counter-motion claiming that the father was mentally ill. Parents are identified only by their initials to ensure the confidentiality of the process.

Munley appointed Scranton’s attorney, Andrew Phillips, to the GAL and instructed the mother to release the counseling materials to him for three years. It is not clear from the judgment of the court whether the father also received psychiatric treatment and, if so, whether Munley ordered the release of these records. The release of the mother’s files was suspended until the outcome of her appeal proceedings.

The Supreme Court found that Munley raised concerns about a conflict between the Mental Health Act, which protects patient privacy, and the Child Custody Act, which ensures a child’s safety.

The story goes on

In its ruling, the court said Munley found the mother had a 10-year history of mental treatment and had once overdosed on prescription drugs – information that would help ensure the child’s wellbeing.

“The Child Custody Act provides the GAL with access to relevant court records, investigative reports from the child’s parents or other guardians, and medical, psychological and educational records,” Munley said. “Without a clear picture, the GAL would guess what services this family might need and what real safety concerns there are in this family for (the) child.”

In reversing the order, the Superior Court recognized that a parent’s mental health is relevant in determining their suitability as a parent. There are less intrusive means of obtaining this information, such as ordering a psychological examination of the parents.

“Given our previous rulings highlighting the importance of confidentiality in mental health care and the power of the judicial process to have the same information through a … mental health record,” the court said.

The ruling matters because it was heard by the court’s entire nine-person jury, which means it will be binding on other courts unless it is later overturned by appeal to the state Supreme Court. It is not known whether the father will appeal. Attempts to reach his lawyer Corinne Thiel von Moosic were unsuccessful.

Contact the author:; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter.

Comments are closed.