LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Dana Elaine Quigley | Aug 31, 2011

FLORIDA: THE POWER OF THE COURTS TO ORDER PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS IN CHILD CUSTODY DISPUTES

PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS

There are not many cases in Florida on psychological evaluations. The ordering of a psychological evaluation is within the judge’s discretion; however, case law has determined that a custody dispute does put the parties’ as well as the child(ren)’s mental health at issue.

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Two Cases of Interest in the

Fourth District Court of Appeal

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The Florida Courts have held that the granting or denying of an order for a psychological evaluation is a discretionary act. As such it is governed by the reasonableness test of Canakaris v. Canakaris, 382 So.2d 1197, 1202-03 (Fla.1980). See, Pariser v. Pariser, 601 So.2d 291, 292 (Fla, 4th DCA 1992)(change in custody case). In Pariser, the petitioner maintained that the trial court was required to hold an evidentiary hearing; however, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that an evidentiary hearing is not always required. But see, Anderson v. Anderson, 470 So.2d 52 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985). In Pariser, the appellate court found that a review of the record revealed sufficient information that (based on Canakaris) we cannot say that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law in ordering these tests.

In Gordon v. Smith, 615 So.2d 843, 844 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) the Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed a post-dissolution proceeding to modify custody and visitation of the parties’ child. In that case, the Mother accused the Father of sexual abuse; however, the Father accused the Mother of concocting the story for purposes of the proceedings. The Gordon Court in relying upon Pariser v. Pariser¸ 601 So.2d 291 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992), held that the granting or denying of a order for a psychological evaluation is a purely discretionary act. The Mother’s expert provided a sufficient basis for good cause for the psychological evaluation of the child as well as parents. The Gordon court held that aside from expert testimony, there was an independent statutory authorization to order a psychological evaluation in child custody proceedings. § 61.13(3), Fla. Stat.

Section 61.13(3) provides enumerated factors that the Court may consider and those provisions clearly make the psychological condition of the parents and the child especially relevant in a modification of custody proceeding in light of the dueling allegations by both parties in Gordon v. Smith. The Court found that both sets of allegations in the case provided a relevant foundation for the examinations of both parents, as well as the child, as their mental and emotional fitness were directly relevant to the custody issue; and, this empowers the trial judge to order psychological evaluations.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal opined that this approach will allow the trial courts to avoid depending upon dueling psychological testimony offered by adversaries and enable the trial court to base its opinion on evidence derived from a source unconnected to the parties.

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