Psychological and Custody Evaluations

Per O.C.G.A. section 19-9-3(a)(7), the trial court has authority to order the psychological and custody evaluation of an entire family as well that of a specific parent. See also, O.C.G.A. section 9-11-35 (Physical and Mental Examination of Persons).

Either party may file a motion for such an evaluation. If a guardian has been appointed, the guardian can request the court order the parties to "undergo mental fitness and/or custody evaluations to be performed by a mental health expert approved by the Court". See, U.S.C.R. 24.9(8)(a).

The trial court's will ordinarily grant these motions based on a minimum showing of cause and will usually enter a detailed order specifying the psychologist to conduct the evaluation and the scope of his work and whether or not the evaluation will include a custody recommendation. Ordinarily the costs are split with the ultimate allocation of costs to be reserved until the final trial.

Atlanta Psychological Evaluation Attorney Russell Hippe has direct experience dealing with custody evaluations and the unique challenges and benefits of these evaluations. In a hard fought custody fight, they can be a valuable and helpful tool, in particular where there are young children. Often, the evaluations is conducted in conjunction with the efforts of a guardian ad litem.

Citation to Georgia Authority:

The trial court had the authority to order a custody evaluation, even though the case involved a modification of father's visitation rights; statute defined custody as including visitation rights, and second statute authorized the trial court to order a psychological custody evaluation of a family. West's Ga.Code Ann. §§ 19–9–3(a)(7).

Gottschalk v. Gottschalk, 311 Ga. App. 304, 715 S.E.2d 715 (2011).

Also, regarding privilege, if a court appoints a mental health provider simply to examine and evaluate a person's mental state, no psychotherapist-patient privilege exists because treatment is neither given nor contemplated. West's Ga.Code Ann. § 24–9–21.

Gottschalk v. Gottschalk, 311 Ga. App. 304, 715 S.E.2d 715 (2011).

"In attempting to reach a determination regarding the best interest of the child, the superior court has the power, in any proceeding where the issue of child custody is contested, to compel either or both parents to submit to examination and evaluation by a court-appointed clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. See generally OCGA §§ 15-6-8(6); 15-6-9(8); compare In the Interest of E.P.N., 193 Ga.App. 742, 388 S.E.2d 903; see also OCGA § 19-9-3(a). The mental health of the parents is an inherent and vital part of their overall “state of health,” within the meaning of OCGA § 19-9-4(a), and can be a critical factor in determining the best interest of the child."

Rowe v. Rowe, 195 Ga. App. 493, 495, 393 S.E.2d 750, 752 (1990)