The Use of Medical and Mental Health Records in a New Jersey Child Custody Case

DSC03420-B3 morguefile DodgertonSkillhauseI suffer from a mental illness and my spouse wants a divorce.  Can this hurt my chances for gaining custody of our children?

In general, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in a New Jersey child custody matter.  In some situations, a parent’s physical and mental health history may be relevant when child custody is determined.  For instance, if a parent’s mental health issues have a negative impact on his or her ability to parent a former couple’s children, a family court will normally take this into account.  In order to utilize such medical information, however, medical records must be obtained.

In particularly contentious child custody matters, a psychologist may be engaged to evaluate each parent and make a custody recommendation to the family court.  In order to make such a recommendation, the psychologist will need to obtain access to each parent’s medical and mental health records.  Sometimes, such records are also required in order to confirm or refute the other parent’s mental illness claims.

Additionally, a New Jersey family court may need to obtain a parent’s medical or mental health records for other reasons.  Obtaining such information is not as easy as it sounds.  Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), a health care provider may not disclose private medical information to a third party without the prior written consent of a patient.  The law was created to ensure that an individual’s medical information is stored in a secure and confidential manner and to reduce administrative costs for medical providers.  Despite this law, a parent involved in a child custody matter may not use HIPAA in order to prevent medical records from being produced to a family court.

Especially when the best interests of a child are at issue, a New Jersey court may elect to compel a health care provider to release a parent’s otherwise confidential medical and mental health information.  Still, a family court will not normally do so unless the parent has elected to place his or her own medical or mental health condition at issue.  For example, a parent who claims he or she is incapable of working due to a mental illness may be required to back up such a statement using information gathered by his or her medical provider.  Typically, a parent’s health care information may not be disclosed due to a so-called fishing expedition.

For top-notch legal representation and helpful answers regarding your child custody and other family law questions, call the dedicated New Jersey family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group today at 732-967-6777 or contact our seasoned lawyers through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Will My Former Spouse Be Entitled to All or Part of My Pension Following a New Jersey Divorce?, June 6, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog

Child Custody and Parenting Time for New Jersey Parents Who are Deployed Overseas, June 3, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog

Photo Credit: DodgertonSkillhause, MorgueFile