Are a Parent’s Past Medical Records Relevant to a Child Custody Proceeding?
A divorce can bring to light many unflattering and embarrassing facts about a couple into court. But there are limits on how far a court will go before outright violating someone’s privacy. It is critical to note that Florida law guarantees the right to privacy in such things as medical records. So a spouse looking for an “advantage” in a contested divorce cannot arbitrarily demand to see the other spouse’s medical records hoping to uncover some potentially damaging information.
Appeals Court Quashes Husband’s Demand for Wife’s Mental Health Treatment Information
The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently confronted such a scenario. In this case, Ricketts v. Ricketts, a wife filed for divorce from her husband. The couple has minor children. As part of pre-trial discovery, the husband informed the wife he intended to subpoena her medical records from 11 different health care providers. Specifically, the husband sought information regarding any “medical and/or psychological and/or psychiatric treatment” that the wife received within the past 5 years.
The wife objected, and the trial court decided to limit the scope of the husband’s subpoena but did not outright deny it. The wife then asked the Second District to issue an order quashing the trial judge’s ruling and preventing the husband from obtaining any of the requested medical records.
The Second District granted the wife’s order. Essentially, the appeals court said the husband wanted to make the wife’s “mental health” an issue in their divorce, particularly with respect to her fitness as a parent. But as a general rule, “[r]equesting custody, time-sharing, or parental responsibility does not place a party’s mental health at issue” under Florida law. Indeed, neither parent has accused the other of unfitness. If the wife had raised her mental health condition as a defense to any allegations made by the husband, that would be different. But the husband cannot simply demand access to the wife’s medical records based on unsupported allegations.
The Second District further noted that when resolving child custody and visitation issues, Florida courts must look at the “present ability and condition” of the parents. In other words, the wife’s “prior health” are “not relevant to her current ability to parent her children.” The husband was therefore out of line in seeking up to five years’ worth of past medical records.
Speak with a Florida Child Custody Lawyer Today
It is important to understand that the Second District’s ruling in the above case does not mean that a parent’s physical or mental health can never be an issue in a custody proceeding. Rather, the point is that a parent should not attempt to use the legal system to go on a “fishing expedition” hoping to find some damaging piece of information in the other parent’s medical records. Ultimately, custody proceedings are about making arrangements that will serve the child’s best interests.
If you need advice or representation in connection with any child custody matter from an experienced Boca Raton family law attorney, contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, today at 561-488-7788 to schedule a consultation.