The appeals court docket dominated that parenting psychological well being information are banned in custody information
A Lackawanna County judge was wrong when she ordered a mother to hand over her mental health records in connection with a custody battle with her child’s father, the Supreme Court ruled.
In a precedent, the court ruled that Judge Julia Munley’s order violated the woman’s privacy rights under the Mental Health Procedures Act, which prohibits the release of confidential records without the patient’s consent.
The case revolved around the question of whether an ad litem guardian – an attorney appointed to represent the child and ensure that his or her best interests are protected in controversial custody cases – could review the records to determine if the mother was there was a fit parent.
The mother’s attorney, Robert Buttner, of Scranton, said the ruling was a major victory for people seeking mental health care. If the court had upheld the order, it would have a “deterrent effect” on parents’ willingness to seek treatment, he said.
“There is a stigma about seeking mental health treatment,” Buttner said. “This protects people seeking treatment from the fear of one day having a custody case in which their confidential statements could be used against them.”
According to the Supreme Court’s written opinion: The father filed an urgency motion in August 2019 alleging the mother behaved erratically. The mother filed a counterclaim alleging that the father was mentally ill. Parents are identified only by their initials to ensure the confidentiality of the process.
Munley appointed Scranton attorney Andrew Phillips to the GAL and directed the mother to provide him with counseling materials for three years. It does not appear from the court’s judgment whether the father also applied for mental health treatment and, if so, whether Munley ordered the release of these records. The publication of the mother’s documents was suspended until the outcome of her appeal.
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 the safety of a child.
In its ruling, the court said Munley found the mother had 10 years of mental health care experience and had once overdosed on prescription drugs – information that would be relevant to ensuring the child’s best interests are being protected.
“The Custody Act provides the GAL with ‘access to relevant court records, investigative reports from the child’s parents or other caregivers, 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 this family has for (the) child.”
In reversing the order, the Supreme Court acknowledged that a parent’s mental health is relevant in determining their suitability for the parent. It is said that there are less intrusive means of obtaining this information, such as directing parents to undergo a psychological examination.
“Given our previous rulings highlighting the importance of confidentiality in the treatment of mental illness and the power of the court to obtain the same information through a … mental examination, it is clear that these ‘investigation reports’ are not the confidentiality of any The parent should include mental health records, “the court said.
The judgment is significant in that it was heard by the court’s nine-person jury. This means that it will be binding on other courts unless it is overturned later in the appeal process to the Supreme State Court. It is not known whether the father intends to appeal. Attempts to reach his lawyer Corinne Thiel von Moosic were unsuccessful.