Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Child Custody

Many parties to Florida child custody cases want to know, “Can I have the other parent undergo a psychological evaluation?” The answer to this question is the classic lawyer response: It depends. Florida law relies on a two-part analysis to determine if such an evaluation is warranted: (1) The examination must be related to a matter in controversy and (2) the party requesting the exam must show good cause exists for it.

In the case Oldham v. Greene, 1D17-2238 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), a central issue in the parties’ case was the creation of a parenting plan. The mother filed a motion requesting a social evaluation of the father, accusing the father of having violent outbursts which would affect his ability to parent. At a hearing on the motion, the court treated the mother’s motion as a request for a psychological evaluation and granted the same, stating only that the mother met her initial burden to show that good cause existed for an evaluation.

The father petitioned the appellate court for a writ of certiorari, arguing it was error for the trial court to order the evaluation under these circumstances. The appellate court agreed with him, citing the fact that the father’s mental health was never placed in controversy, especially since the mother had answered interrogatories previously which did not place the father’s mental health at issue. The father’s mental health was not placed in controversy simply because he was seeking custody. Second, the court held that even if the father’s mental health was placed into controversy, the mother had not met her burden to show good cause existed for the examination.

Specifically, the appellate court held, “Here, the evidence before the trial court failed to show "good cause" that Father could not meet the needs of the child or that his mental instability, if shown, would have an effect on the child. [. . .] Additionally, Mother stated she and her elder daughter were fearful of Father, but confirmed he did not threaten her or the child and was not violent with them. Father's cursing and outbursts are certainly not advisable, but this behavior does not establish that Father is unable to meet the needs of the child or places the child at risk.”

Last, the appellate court held, “Finally, even if Mother met her burden of proving ‘in controversy’ and ‘good cause’ under rule 12.360, the order remains deficient as it fails to provide sufficient parameters regarding the examination. In orders compelling examinations, the trial court must set forth ‘the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of an examination and the person or persons by whom it is to be made.’ Open-ended orders that do not provide specific directives regarding the psychological evaluation depart from the essential requirements of law.”

Compelling a psychological evaluation requires careful consideration of the standard applied by Florida family courts. This is why you should consult with a Miami child custody lawyer to determine your best case strategy in a similar situation. Contact one today for a consultation.