In North Carolina, a court can order a mental health evaluation to be performed on one or both parents by Motion of either party, or if the Court deems it appropriate, the court can order an evaluation to be done in the case on its own motion. Mental health evaluations are used by the court to assess psychological factors of one or both of the parties that may impact the best interests of the child. The mental health evaluation is typically performed by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The parties can either consent to a particular evaluator and suggest one to the court, or the court will appoint one from a list of approved professionals. Depending on the facts of the case at hand, there is an array of questions that the court will request be determined by an evaluator and the length of time of the evaluation varies as a result. After a thorough process of interviews, testing, meeting with collateral witnesses of the parties, and a review of the pertinent documents involved, the evaluator often prepares a written report to produce to the court, the parties, and their attorneys. The judge in the case may consider the findings of the evaluator in making a determination of custody and visitation but she is not required to follow the evaluator’s recommendations. The evaluator’s report is just one of many factors the court takes into consideration when determining child custody.
Requests for mental health evaluations should not be made lightly. If the circumstances do not exist to support a request, the court may believe a party is simply engaging in scorched earth strategy to intimidate the other party or inappropriately influence the court. On the other hand, if a party truly believes there is a mental health issue with the other party, including addiction issues, then the party should not hesitate to seek an evaluation. Failure to act upon legitimate concerns of mental health issues calls into question the ability of both parents to take steps to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. Finally, if a party asks the court to order the other party to undergo an evaluation, he should be prepared to undergo an evaluation himself and to potentially advance the costs of the evaluation. Before making these decisions, the party should rely heavily on the advice and experience of his or her attorney.
If you or someone you know has questions about mental health evaluations, contact Hatcher Law Group for a consultation with an experienced family law attorney to understanding your rights and options moving forward.